The United States in the World:  Making Sense of the Past Forty Years (1981-2023)

uncle sam imperialism

The United States of America has been the pre-eminent country on Earth for over 40 years.[1]  There are many competing analyses of these developments, different understandings, etc., and with all kinds of various intellectual ramifications from these.  However, along with genuine efforts to accurately understand this period, there is much misinformation, obfuscation, and plain lying about its role in the world and its economic, political, military, and cultural activities in which it engages; part of this is conscious, part of it is not, but it means there is a massive amount of confusion about it, not only among academics and journalists but, more importantly, the activists and the general public.

This article seeks to accomplish four things:

  1. Illuminate what the US political-economic elites are really trying to do: dominate the world, advancing their interests at the direct expense of the American people as well as others throughout the world, even though this is the opposite of what they say they are attempting; i.e., to provide an accurate and honest account of these elites’ activities and projects.
  2. Elaborate and demystify concepts, some more developed than others, behind which they hide their efforts.
  3. Expose the impacts of these operations on the American people and our social order, while recognizing the impact is so much worse on so many others around the world.
  4. Argue that for the well-being if not very survival of the large majorities of Americans, as well as the large majorities of the world, we Americans must join with the rest of the world to oppose this elite domination, wherever and however it shows its ugly head.[2]

This analysis requires a global perspective, which differs from our traditional national focus.

While it is necessary, it is not sufficient to limit our attention to the United States and/or the other imperial countries.  We must act from a global perspective, and one which specifically includes the formerly colonized countries.  Yes, this makes things more complicated and more complex–and it forces us to consider things that we may have never considered.  Yet we simply cannot prevail without taking a global perspective; from all I’ve seen and learned over the years, it is essential; it simply cannot be done any other way.

Accordingly, what must always be recognized is that social developments always take place within a particular social context, which affects them, for better or worse.  And again, this social context must take a global perspective.

The social context that must be understood is that since at least the end of World War II in 1945, the elites of the United States have tried to dominate the rest of the world; the US is an imperial country (see, among others, Blum, 1986, 2000, 2014, 2015; Chomsky, 2003; Grandin, 2007; Johnson, 2000, 2010; Klein, 2007, 2014; McCoy, 2009, 2017, 2021; Nederveen Pieterse, 1989, 2004, 2008; Robinson, 1996; Scipes, 1984, 2009, 2010a, 2010b, 2016a, 2017, 2020, 2022b; Stone and Kuznick, 2012).[3]  This means we cannot understand the US simply as another country, but—at all times—must recognize that this is the heartland of the US Empire.  This has had a dynamic designed to advance the interests of the United States—as determined by the elites of this country—over those of every other country. Through developing what can only be called realistically as “American nationalism”—based on white supremacy—and propagating this through the school system, churches, and other societal institutions (and lying extensively about it in the mass media), the elites have gotten large numbers of Americans to support their imperial adventures.[4]

One of the interesting things about American social self-deception is that this imperial project of the elites has been said to be the basis of our high standard of living and national well-being; i.e., we need to be imperialist, to dominate other countries, to live so well, although it’s never projected in these terms.

However, since about 1973—and certainly by 1979—the US standard of living has stagnated, if not gotten worse for growing numbers of people; this will be detailed in Part 3 of this overall project.  The “solution,” as put forth by our political and social leaders has been what is called “neo-liberal economics”; yet as shown unequivocally, what has been proclaimed the solution has really only made things much worse.  Neo-liberal economics, against what was “promised,” actually has channeled resources from the national population to the rich and to the managers of the US Empire instead of benefiting our people.  This has been a disaster for many Americans; social inequality has mushroomed as millions of good paying, mostly unionized jobs have been destroyed; our social services and educational system have been under attack; mass shootings have proliferated and, for the first time in US history, today’s generation will not do as well economically as their parents’.  And things are only going to get worse for increasing numbers of people.

It is time for us to consider a new way of relating among ourselves, to other Americans, as well as to human beings around the world, as well as to the planetary environment.

In other words, by accepting the elites’ domination project and mistreating billions of people around the world, we are adding to our own oppression.

It is time for us to consider a new way of relating among ourselves, to other Americans, as well as to human beings around the world, as well as to the planetary environment.

ESSENTIAL CONCEPTS:  IMPERIALISM, GLOBALIZATION, NEO-LIBERAL ECONOMICS

For this analysis to make sense, there are three essential concepts that must be explained for this analysis to be creditable:  “imperialism,” “globalization,” and “neo-liberal economics,” and they are each discussed below.  These terms are complex, and have developed over time, so the explanation is elaborate.  These are terms that do not get discussed in general (imperialism), are bandied about as though we share a common understanding (globalization), or simply are generally undefined but necessary to understand (neo-liberal economics); and they are generally not examined together.  They need to be disentangled and then each developed and shown how they interact, and that is done herein.

There has been considerable debate among analysts about the relationship between imperialism and globalization;[5] in fact, some refer to it as “imperialist globalization.”

That is not the approach that some of us take; perhaps most clear is Jan Nederveen Pieterse (2004).[6] Globalization has been going on for tens of thousands of years. Sometimes this has taken the form of imperialism—Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, etc.—but other times it has not, like when we discuss cross-border migration. Modern imperialism, however, starts with the “voyages of discovery” by sea-going projects of the Western European countries, roughly around 1500.  In other words, these are separate but overlapping processes; they need to be understood accordingly.

These concepts are now discussed in turn.

UNDERSTANDING IMPERIALISM:  COLONIALISM AND NEO-COLONIALISM[7]

Imperialism is often dismissed as a rhetorical term, but it is used empirically herein to discuss reality on the ground. It basically refers to the idea that different countries do not have equal political-economic power; imperialism refers to the fact that some countries are more powerful than others, and that the stronger use this power to maintain or extend their domination over the weaker when other countries do not subjugate themselves to the more powerful country.

One of Marxism’s greatest contributions to political struggle is development of the concept of “imperialism.”  To summarize quickly, based on Lenin’s “Imperialism:  The Highest Stage of Capitalism” (Lenin, 1916) and considerable subsequent empirical elaboration of the concept, imperialism is a process whereby some countries are able to exploit other, weaker, countries for their raw materials (such as agricultural land and its products, such as timber, fruits, etc.), natural resources (minerals such as gold, silver and copper), and sometimes their human resources (slaves or, more recently, labor migrants), which are accumulated, then gathered, and returned to the “home” imperial country to be used to further develop the imperial country.

At the same time, this is done with little to no consideration by the imperial forces of the harmful impact upon the targeted people.  Obviously, invasion and war have incredibly deleterious and immediate effects on a population, in and of themselves.  Robert McNamara, the former US Secretary of “Defense,” claims that 3.8 million Vietnamese were killed during what the Vietnamese call “The American War,” and Nick Turse (2013) documents another 5.7 million wounded.  Additionally, the physical, environmental, social, and individual costs continue today, almost 50 years after the end of combat (1975), with continuing cases of unexploded ordinance and continued casualties from Agent Orange poisoning).[8]

Another level of impact is due to intervening into other nation’s affairs—using either covert operations by the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) or “public” operations by the NED (National Endowment for Democracy)[9]—to enforce US imperial desires.  These almost always cause a great deal of societal disruption at least and often lead to death, imprisonment, torture, and destruction of people and urban areas, especially should they be successful in overthrowing democratically-elected governments, which the US under Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger did to Chile on September 11, 1973—the first 9/11—50 years ago this year (2023).

There is also the role of political sanctions.  This is where one country—generally the US—imposes limits on what a country can import and export, and this is done through pressure, naval blockade, economic restrictions, and other means.  Perhaps the classic case is the case of Iraq, between the first and second US-led invasions (1991-2003).  When asked by CBS News Correspondent Leslie Stahl, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated unequivocally that “We think the price is worth it” that approximately 500,000 (no misprint) Iraqi children below the age of five died as a result of US sanctions (Stahl, 1996; see also Blum, 2000: 5-6).  The US has imposed sanctions unilaterally around the world and has had especially deleterious effects on Cuba and Venezuela in addition to Iraq.

In addition to the violence perpetrated, the impact of exploitation can be understood by understanding the simple theft of these raw materials, natural resources, and people, or it can be recognized by the physical, social, emotional, and environmental impacts of such theft which can continue for generations over centuries, and which can be labeled oppression.

In other words, to begin to understand imperialism, one must recognize that it is an interactive process between a stronger country and a weaker one, intended to benefit the stronger one at the expense of the weaker one; where the stronger country uses its military, economic, political, diplomatic, and/or cultural resources to impose its rule over the weaker one; and this rule is intended to further the exploitation and oppression of the peoples and the environment of the weaker country so as to maintain domination by the stronger one over time.[10]

These dominating processes, however, go farther:  they are intended to establish control by the dominating country not just over the country and resources as a whole, but over the culture and thus the individual minds of the subjugated country’s citizens, getting the latter to at least accept if not embrace the ideas that the dominating country is so superior that it naturally should control the lives of the people in the subjugated country and that it should continue indefinitely.[11]

However, there are two forms of imperialism:  colonialism and neo-colonialism.  What is the difference?

Colonization is the process of direct physical invasion and occupation of a particular land by a stronger country, regardless of whether the invaded land is organized in a nation-state or territorial form; in contemporary terms, it is when the stronger country puts “boots on the ground.”  It is done to establish colonies of the imperial country in a way that ensures continued economic exploitation and political domination by the imperial country for the benefit of the imperial country; it is done against the will of the common people of such a land, whether local “elite” agree or not.

However, during the period of colonialism, the imperial countries generally have groomed sons—and increasingly, daughters—of the pre-colonial elites to run the country after independence, especially by educating them, whether at “home” or in the imperial country, of the “wonderfulness” of the imperial society.  Key to that is to “convince” these future “leaders” (i.e., elites) that the best way forward for their country is to “voluntarily” accept the exploitive economic relations established during colonialism by the imperial country and maintain them after independence.  In other words, while granting political independence, the colonizer seeks in all cases to maintain the same exploitive economic relations after independence; this is known as neo-colonialism.[12]  It keeps the independent country under the economic, and often political, control of the imperial country, without the obvious military domination.

This is not necessarily all bad for the newly independent country; after all, colonial violence against the citizenry is almost always reduced after independence; and oftentimes, qualitatively.  And people see that people who look like them can run the affairs of the independent country, challenging the ideology of “white supremacy” that had been established during colonialism.  These definitely are gains for all concerned.  Yet the gains are always limited in that they generally do not affect—or, at worse, intensify—the economic relationships established under colonialism; relationships that were designed to benefit the imperial country at the expense of the colonized one.

While Lenin’s and his political descendants’ analysis of imperialism is important, it is also too limited; it is basically confined to economic exploitation.[13]  What is ignored here is that an imperialist country usually seeks to dominate a number of countries, sometimes in the same part of the world, sometimes in other parts, and sometimes in multiple parts at the same time.[14]  And sometimes, the individual imperialist relationships are limited to exploitive economic relationships.

Yet sometimes they are not.  What the Marxist tradition generally ignores are the political relationships, both between the particular imperial and colonized countries, and between the different imperial countries themselves.

Jan Nederveen Pieterse has surpassed Lenin’s thinking.  In his path-breaking Empire and Emancipation:  Power and Liberation on a Global Scale (New York: Praeger, 1989), Nederveen Pieterse accepts Lenin’s economistic analysis but adds a political analysis to the economic.  In other words, Nederveen Pieterse argues that imperialism has both economic and political motivations and, by adding this, it allows us to consider issues of domination and subjugation in nation-state relations, which allows us to consider geo-strategic positions and empires, and their effects on world history.[15]  Further, in some cases, economic motivations are primary whereas in others, political motivations are primary; one cannot assume either motivation is primary, but must be confirmed by empirical analysis.

However, Nederveen Pieterse’s understanding of imperialism extends beyond the nation-state level. In a 2010 article, I elaborated:

A political community usually refers to a nation-state; however, while including nation-states in this category, Nederveen Pieterse’s understanding of imperialism extends beyond the nation-state level.  He recognizes that because of external domination during past history, groups who share common culture, traditions, languages, and political organization (i.e., “political communities”) may have been incorporated within the boundaries of other political communities.  Examples of this include Native American nations having been incorporated into the U.S., the Palestinians into Israel, the Kurds into Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq, and certainly this is also true of the indigenous peoples around the world.  Thus, instead of ignoring these peoples or making them irrelevant by confining the understanding of imperialism to only nation-states, Nederveen Pieterse broadens the conception of imperialism to include the domination of one political community over another, and this can exist within the current boundaries of a nation-state: these cross-political community border relationships are based in unequal power relations, with the stronger dominating the weaker (Scipes, 2010b: 468).

However, in addition to recognizing that imperialism is not just limited to nation states, Nederveen Pieterse argues that organizations at different levels of the social world can engage in imperialism, and that can aid established empires. Accordingly,

Nederveen Pieterse extends the concept of imperialism “vertically” to include different levels of domination. He not only focuses on dominative relations at the nation-state level, but he includes dominative relations at levels higher and lower than the nation-state level. For example, at the suprastate level (at a higher level than nation-states/political communities), dominative relations can be established, such as between the United Nations (UN) and people of any particular country (such as UN “peacekeeping forces” and Haitian slum dwellers). Likewise, dominative relations can be established at a substate level (at a lower level), such as between a labor organization in the U.S. and labor organizations in other countries. In other words, Nederveen Pieterse not only expands the concept of imperialism on a horizontal axis through broadening it to include domination across political community borders, but he also extends it vertically by including different levels of domination. It is in recognizing that domination can take place at a level below nation-state domination that allows Labor’s across-political-community-borders domination to be included within the concept of imperialism (Scipes, 2010b: 468).

Subsequently, and coming from a different perspective, scholars such as Alfred W. McCoy (2009, 2017, 2021) have further developed the understanding of empires.  McCoy (2017), focusing on the decline of the US Empire, argues that the claim of empire is resonating.  After discussing a number of writers from a range of political perspectives, he points out that, “In short, analysts across the political spectrum had come to agree that empire was the most appropriate word to describe America’s current superpower status” (McCoy, 2017: 47).  And further, “Calling a nation that controls nearly half of the planet’s military forces and much of its wealth an ‘empire’ became nothing more than fitting an analytical frame to appropriate facts” (McCoy, 2017: 43).[16]

So, in dominating weaker countries, the stronger ones coalesced their power into empires.

And empires, over the years, have competed to dominate other empires.

And imperialism, in all of its forms, has been based on violence, whether it is used in any particular situation or not.  Thomas Ferguson (2012: xi-xii) presents a fascinating chart (see his Figure 1) which shows commencement of US use of force or covert intervention abroad between 1798-2001.  It is based on data from the US Congressional Research Service, which had compiled a report, “Instances of US Armed Forces Abroad From 1798,” and from Blum (2014).  What it shows is a persistent but low level number of interventions until about 1947 (when the CIA was created via the National Security Act),[17] and then it jumps up dramatically until about 1975:  “Uses of armed force abroad and covert action rose sharply during the Cold War, before declining suddenly as a rest of the Church Committee hearings…”  He continues:  “The drop in interventions did not persist; instead, it dramatically reversed with the proclamation of the “Reagan Doctrine” (Ferguson, 2012: xi), when it surpassed by a considerable amount the 1947-75 period.

Recognizing this requires us to understand, in trying to account for the global development of capitalism, that capital does not operate within a “neutral” capitalist world, where owners’ or corporate managers’ decisions rule, but rather within a highly organized political world based on empire as developed by particular nation-states.

Over time—and this can be decades, if not centuries of subjugation—the colonies generally have gotten their political independence from their respective imperial colonizer.[18]  Sometimes, independence has come through armed struggle; i.e., revolutions.  Other times, the benefits to the colonizer have become so limited that the colonizer has granted political independence so as to minimize future costs to the imperial country.  However, again, most of the former colonies gained only their political independence; they remain tied economically to their former colonial master (s).[19]

So, to summarize:

Imperialism is an interactive process between a stronger political community (nation-state, or organizations at supra-national or sub-national levels) and a weaker political community, intended to benefit the stronger one at the expense of the weaker one; where the stronger political community uses its resources (including, as appropriate, military, economic, political, diplomatic, and/or cultural resources) to impose its rule over the weaker one; and this rule is intended to further the exploitation and oppression of the peoples and the environment of the weaker country so as to maintain domination by the stronger one over time.

GLOBALIZATION[20]

Globalization is an on-going process. Using the term means taking a planetary scope, no longer restricting one’s analysis to the level of the nation-state. This does not mean that the nation-state is obsolete, irrelevant, etc., but that we cannot confine our political analysis to just the nation-state level. Jan Nederveen Pieterse expands:

Among analysts and policy makers, North and South, there is an emerging consensus on several features of globalization: globalization is being shaped by technological changes, involves the reconfiguration of states, goes together with regionalization [e.g., European Union, Latinamericanization-KS], and is uneven (Nederveen Pieterse, 2015: 8).

He further writes that while people oftentimes refer to time-space compression, “It means that globalization involves more intensive interaction across wider space and in shorter time than before” (Nederveen Pieterse, 2015: 8).[21]

There are issues, however, concerning globalization where there are still considerable controversies. Following Nederveen Pieterse, this author argues that in addition to the above, globalization is multidimensional (i.e., cannot be confined to just one aspect, such as economics, but includes things like politics and culture) and should be seen as a long-term phenomenon that began thousands of years ago in the “beginnings in the first migrations of peoples and long-distance trade connections and subsequently accelerates under particular conditions (the spread of technologies, religions, literacy, empires, capitalism” (Nederveen Pieterse, 2015: 70-71).[22]  In other words, globalization predates capitalism and modernity, which means it predates the “West.” And, of course, that it did not begin in the 1970s.

While globalization is a much broader, deeper, and longer set of processes than is usually recognized, these processes began accelerating in the early 1970s.

If globalization during the second half of the twentieth century coincided with the ‘American Century’ and the period 1980-2000 coincided with the dominance of Anglo-American capitalism and American hegemony, twenty-first-century globalization shows markedly different dynamics. American hegemony has weakened, the US economy is import dependent, deeply indebted, and mired in financial crises.

The new trends of twenty-first century globalization are the centers of the world economy shifting to the global South, to the newly industrialized countries, and to the energy exporters (Nederveen Pieterse, 2015: 24).[23]

He further points out these changes are taking place in economic and financial spheres, in international institutions, and in changing patterns of migration. He summarizes, “The unquestioned cultural hegemony of the West is past” (Nederveen Pieterse, 2015: 24-25).

While this author agrees with Nederveen Pieterse’s thinking about globalization—including that it is multidimensional and that it predates modernity—I want to add another point about globalization: it is multilayered (Scipes, 2012a). This is an important point.

Business and governments have appropriated the term “globalization,” insisting that is a monolithic force of “good” that is deluging the world, and is enveloping all within it, like a wall of flood water that cannot be stopped.

Activists initially responded to this by being against globalization; for existence, Amory Starr’s 2005 book was titled Global Revolt: A Guide to the Movements against Globalization. However, activists came to see that we were not against globalization, but against the type of globalization that was being promoted and propagated (e.g., Friedman, 1999).

A number of authors think a better idea is to recognize that there are two levels of globalization—claiming there is “top-down,” corporate/militaristic globalization, and a “bottom-up,” global movement for social and economic justice—and that these two levels are based on values completely antithetical to the other. By that, I mean that globalization is not a monolith, a single, collective phenomenon, but argue it has at least two layers, so we can refer to as “globalization from above,” and “globalization from below.”  What does that mean?

Accepting Nederveen Pieterse’s claim that “globalization involves more intensive interaction across wider space and in shorter time than before” (Nederveen Pieterse, 2015: 8), we must look at the values of each of these levels of globalization. The values of top-down globalization are those that promote the unhindered spread of economic exploitation and corporate domination around the world, and the militarism (and related wars and military operations) needed to ensure that is possible; in other words, top-down globalization is the latest effort to dominate the world, all living beings and the planet.

This can be seen when looking at the issue of culture globally.  Basically, top-down globalization promotes a “universal” culture whereby the culture of the dominant actors is projected as though it is, or should be, the culture of every human society; it ignores or seeks to decimate all local cultures for the sake of acceptance of the dominant one that it projects.

Globalization from below, on the other hand, is life enhancing:  it rejects domination in all of its forms and seeks to build a new world based on equality, social and economic justice, and respect for all living beings and the planet (Shiva, 2005). The two worldviews, and the values on which each are based, could not be more opposed.

This is where my call for macro-level thinkers to incorporate progressive unionism into their analyses becomes even more important: these progressive unions[24] are part of the global movement for economic and social justice (whether they recognize it or not), and that as they gain such consciousness, they will find ways of developing solidarity with workers and other unions, women, peasants, students, the urban poor, etc., around the world.

Thus, understanding that there are two different levels of globalization, and that they are opposed to each other, means that people need to choose: which side are you on?

And, more practically, it means that our search for allies around the globe should be focused on building ties to those who are advancing the values, goals, and organizations of the “globalization from below” movement as they seek global economic and social justice from all places in the world for all places in the world.

NEO-LIBERAL ECONOMICS[25]

Additionally, there is what is called neo-liberal economics.  This is an effort to explain the development particularly of the US economy within a global context.[26]  Often said to be based on the principles of the free market—itself an ideological conceptualization[27]—neo-liberal economics is definitely not free, but is highly developed to benefit the wealthy and powerful of the US Empire; thus, it is intended to further enrich those who are already well off while providing additional economic resources to support the US Empire.  And it serves to rationalize the domestic disembowelment of the US domestic economy, which has already destroyed the economic well-being and security of millions in this country, while making the disenfranchised think that the failure was their’s alone—and not the result of systematic design by the rich and powerful—and that they are unable to resist these larger social processes through their social isolation and feelings of individualism that have been further enhanced by the elites.

The US emerged from the global destruction of World War II all-but-unscathed and with the most technologically-advanced economy in the world; besides having the atomic bomb and dropping it twice on Japan, and the strongest naval and air forces in the world, they soon created the CIA (the Central Intelligence Agency) to help them maintain political dominance in the world whenever and whereafter possible.[28]  The US Empire was built on the back of a strong economy—McCoy (2017) points out that the US produced 50 percent of the world’s production of goods and services in the early 1950s (as much as that produced by all of the other countries in the world, combined)–and this was joined with international financial institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), each designed to help protect the global economy from the flaws of unregulated capitalism that led to the Great Depression, a global economy that American economic architects assumed would always be dominated by the United States.

For people in the United States, this led to 26 years of increasing and almost equal real economic growth inside of US society.  This can be seen immediately below, with a look of economic well-being across the entire US economy.

The years between 1947 and 1973 are considered the “golden years” of the US society.[29]  The values are presented in 2005 dollars, so that means that inflation has been excluded and that the findings in this chart can be compared with Figure 2 and Figure 5, below:  these are real dollar values, and thus are valid comparisons.

Figure 1:  US Family Income, in US dollars, Growth and Distribution, by quintile,

1947-1973, in 2005 Dollars[30]

 

  Lowest 20% Second 20 % Third 20% Fourth 20% 95th Percentile[31]

 

1947 $11,758 $18,973 $25,728 $36,506 $59,916
1973 $23,144 $38,188 $53,282 $73,275 $114,234
Difference    (26 years) $11,386

(97%)

$19,215

(101%)

$27,554

(107%)

$36,769

(101%)

$54,318

(91%)

 

Source:            US Commerce Department, Bureau of the Census (hereafter, US Census Bureau) at www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/histinc/f01ar.html:  this data is no longer available.  All dollar values converted to 2005 dollars by US Census Bureau, removing inflation and comparing real values.   Differences and percentages calculated by author. Percentages shown in row labeled “Difference” show the dollar difference as a percentage of the first year of the comparison and have been rounded.

Data for the first period, 1947-1973, shows there was considerable real economic growth for each quintile.  Over the 26-year period, there was approximately 100 percent real economic growth for the incomes at the top of each quintile, which meant incomes doubled after inflation was removed; thus, there was significant real economic growth in the society.

And importantly, this real economic growth was distributed fairly evenly.  The data in the fourth line (in parentheses) is the percentage relationship between the difference between 1947-1973 real income when compared to the 1947 real income, with 100 percent representing a doubling of real income:  i.e., the difference for the bottom quintile between 1947 and 1973 was an increase of $11,386, which is 97 percent more than $11,758 that the top of the quintile had in 1947.  As can be seen, other quintiles also saw increases of roughly comparable amounts: in ascending order, 101 percent, 107 percent, 101 percent, and 91 percent.  In other words, the rate of growth by quintile was very similar across all five quintiles of the population.

By the mid-1960s, however, the World War II war-torn countries of Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom had recovered to such an extent that their corporations were able to compete with those of the United States in Europe and Japan. By the 1970s, some of these corporations were competing with US corporations inside the United States.  And by the 1980s, foreign corporations were increasingly investing in productive facilities inside the US, enhancing their competitive situation against US firms.

Ronald W. Cox points out that these changes resulted in “the falling rates of profit faced by US-based corporations during the late 1960s and early 1970s,” which extended throughout the 1970s into the mid-1980s.[32]  He focuses on “an examination of the measures taken by US corporations in response to lower profit rates,” which “include both market-based restructuring aimed at lowering input costs, combined with political organization aimed at shifting US state policy in a neoliberal direction,” results he and Cathy Skidmore-Hess had reported in 1999.

Cox explains in some detail:

For US corporations, the traditional approach to maintaining profit rates has been to use oligopolistic market power and position to raise prices.  This strategy could only be used by firms whose market share in a given industry was at a level of concentration that made it cost prohibitive for new firms to effectively enter the market and to compete at lower prices.  The most globally competitive US-based corporations in automobiles, steel, chemicals, and machine tools enjoyed such an advantage over their competitors through the immediate post-World War II period.  This enabled these firms to effectively capture the most dynamic, value-added segments of the US market against domestic and foreign competitors for the first two decades after World War II.  However, by the mid-1960s, there were visible cracks in the oligopolistic structures that allowed those firms to dominate the US market.

Rising competition from Japanese and German exporters, followed by market penetration from the newly industrializing countries of Asia, weakened the hold that US-based oligopolies had on the domestic market.  The ability of US oligopolistic firms in key industries to raise prices to maintain profitability was undercut by the influx of greater foreign competition.  Furthermore, foreign firms that retooled after World War II had a built-in advantage over their US counterparts: they adopted newer technologies that made them more competitive and had a lower time horizon of “sunken” costs compared to their US competitors.  US firms, having developed their productive assets during the 1930s, had higher pension and medical care obligations than their foreign counterparts–a reflection of both the high levels of privatization of these costs in the US compared to Europe and the lengthier time horizon for US firms in being obligated to these costs.  During the first two decades of the post-World War II period, the most globally competitive US firms could use their status as “early industrializers” to establish oligopolies that dominated the US market in all of the leading sectors of manufacturing.  That strategy was becoming untenable with the rise of increased global competition.

US corporations had to look to other strategies in an attempt to overcome the declining rate of profit.  A convergence of events in the late 1970s and early 1980s led corporations to restructure their operations through merger and acquisition strategies that involved buying out, or merging with, competitor firms, and subsequently shedding assets in a restructuring process designed to focus business operations around a core set of activities.  This involved a reorganization of the corporation around global supply chains in which the highest valued-added profits accrued to corporations at the top of the chain.  From the mid-1980s to the present, there has been a greater concentration of market share controlled by the corporations at the top of the value-added chain of production, especially in ‘the high-technology and/or strongly branded segments of the global markets….’  This process has coexisted with an increasingly complex global production system of small and medium-sized producers and suppliers that completes with each other to satisfy the terms of production that are increasingly being established by the ‘system integrators’ at the top of the supply chain (Cox, 2012: 15-16). [33]

The unfettered world that the US economy had operated within after World War II was changing: no longer under control of the United States, it was shifting from a centralized system dominated by one country to a decentralized one that was much more competitive. By the 1980s, increasing competition was coming from corporations from some of the so-called developing countries. These trends have only continued to develop.  And, in fact, what we have subsequently seen is both competition against and collaboration with competing firms of other countries, including companies from formerly colonized nations.

Production in the US had stagnated in the 1970s, and this was joined with increasing monetary inflation. The US was clearly losing its economic advantages to competing countries.

The Business Roundtable—a grouping of Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of leading US corporations—was formed in 1972 to begin offering “solutions” in response to the economic lethargy they saw developing.[34]  Basically, they decided that they could no longer tolerate trade unions that limited their managerial control on shop floors and developed strategies to remove that problem.

The rise and triumph of the corporate neo-liberal agenda did not simply happen because of ‘market forces’ or globalization. The most powerful corporations in the US—many of them the most powerful in the world—organized to make it happen; they developed their own consensus and mobilized their vast resources and network to make it happen. They were determined to counter the surge in labor militancy and reverse the wage gains that took place in the 1960s and peaked during the last phase of the Vietnam War in 1969-71. The corporate offensive was not only aimed at constraining workers’ militancy and reducing wage gains, it was also a response to the challenges that seemed to be posed by the various protest movements of the 1960s, movements that appeared threatening to the status quo and had resonances among young and Black workers (emphasis in original) (Roman and Velasco Arregui, 2013: 7).[35]

These strategies included actions on multiple levels. They challenged trade union limitations on shop floors, but they went much further than that. They decided that they would “outsource” labor-intensive production to countries that had low labor costs, especially to those that had the means to control labor, and which would compete to get investment for their countries. They would work with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank to get them to provide infrastructure investments for these countries to support any new foreign investment. They would upgrade technology in US factories, replacing workers with newly designed machines with “labor-saving” aspects. They would work with “leading” intellectuals to develop an understanding of the changes needed that was conveyable to the public—hence, the propagation of what became known as “neo-liberal” economics. They would support politicians and judges who would support their program. And they would support and fund politicians who would advance these ideas as part of their electoral campaign, especially at the national level.

The philosophy of neo-liberal economics was key to this strategy. Basically, it argued that the well-being of US corporations was central to the well-being of the US economy, that the US economy is central to the well-being of the United States Empire, and that key to the well-being of US corporations was to eradicate any restrictions on US corporations, no matter how deleterious doing so was to US society.[36]  This meant allowing US corporations unfettered control over their work forces, marginalizing if not destroying trade unions in their factories and other operations. It meant undermining strikes by allowing “replacement workers” (scabs) and ensuring their job “rights” after strikes ended. It meant allowing contractual workers and part-time workers to replace full-time workers. It meant undercutting health and safety protections, workers’ compensation schemes (for those hurt on the job), and any other restrictions that might limit production and productivity. And it meant prohibiting any regulations/ restrictions on corporate decisions as to where, and under what conditions, they could invest or disinvest from communities.

As I wrote in 1984, “This offensive [cutting production costs of corporations] has taken many approaches. It includes ‘rationalization” (getting rid of surplus and/or old plants), modernization, concessions, and bankruptcy. Oftentimes, an attack will combine several of these approaches.”

I further explained,

The point of mentioning these different industry and company approaches is to show many different ways workers are under attack. Each one of these attacks is ultimately an assault against unions. The important goal is to destroy worker resistance on the shop floor. Every company wants to be able to force workers to do what the company wants, when the company wants, how the company wants. They see unions as institutionalized forms of resistance, and if a union is standing up for its members at all, they want to subjugate and crush it (Scipes, 1984: 20-21).

Yet, neo-liberal economics went beyond “liberating” the particular corporations from the “oppression” of treating their workers respectfully: it meant restructuring the entire social order. As Francis Fox Piven notes, neo-liberal economic politics were a set of policies carried out, in the name of individualism and unfettered markets, for

the deregulation of corporations, and particularly financial institutions; the rollback of public services and benefit programs; curbing labor unions; ‘free trade’ policies that would pry open foreign markets; and whenever possible, the replacement of public programs with private markets (Piven, 2006: 17).[37]

It also included tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, as well as cuts in environmental programs.

The right-wing forces that opposed governmental intervention in the economy (unless it benefited them or their corporate sponsors)—whether opposing the social programs of the 1960s (often for racist reasons), or because of economic philosophy—coalesced in the presidential campaign and, beginning in January 1981, in the administration of Ronald Reagan. These people took an ideological approach that any governmental intervention in the economy was deleterious to economic growth and societal well-being: Reagan parsed it, saying “Government isn’t the solution; it’s the problem.”[38]

I argue, however, there was more than profit maximization that was driving this adoption of neo-liberal economics:  the elites were feeling the increasingly successful economic competition from other countries as a direct threat to their ability to support and maintain the US Empire, and so they began transferring economic resources away from the United States and its people toward supporting the US Empire and particularly the US military.[39]

In 1980, and again in 1982, the economy contracted. In 1982, the ideologues under Reagan convinced him of the necessity to wring inflation out of the economy, and the government did not intervene to “restimulate” the economy: although interest rates reached 21 percent, which were economically devastating, Reagan did not launch new social programs or increase funding for established ones. Unemployment exploded, reaching the highest levels since the Great Depression.

At the same time, Reagan attacked the labor movement, the one force—despite its many limitations—that had provided economic advancement for millions of Americans.[40] When the air traffic controllers’ union (PATCO—Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization) struck in 1981, Reagan brought in military air traffic controllers to break the strike. (One of the great errors made by the national-level leaders of the labor movement, having disastrous effects, was refusing to shut down the entire airline industry, which was still heavily unionized, to stop Reagan’s union busing.) The Federal government’s union busting, and other right-wing legislative and court decisions that attacked the labor movement, unleashed business’ ability to increase productivity at the direct expense of workers—particularly by moving labor-intensive jobs to low wage countries like Mexico and China (destroying jobs in the US) and by investing in capital-intensive machinery that was also designed to eradicate jobs.[41]

Yet Reagan, despite the mythology that has been created around him, ended up hurting the economy in a long-term manner that has rarely been acknowledged. He engaged in massive deficit spending, only this spending was not to help the American people in general; it was to help the richest Americans, the US military and the arms industry: Reagan began spending hundreds of billions of dollars each year on the war department—I refuse to call it “defense”—and he did it by doubling the national debt in eight years: when he came into office in 1981, the US national debt—from 1789 under George Washington to the end of Jimmy Carter’s administration—was at $ .909 trillion dollars; when Reagan left, eight years later, it was $2.7 trillion.[42]  (It has continued rising since then under both Democratic and Republican presidents, and as of October 2022,  it is over $31 trillion (Rappeport and Tankersley, 2022).[43]

In other words, the US economy has done as well as it has over the past 40+ years—although never as well for the common people as it did between 1947-73—because the US government has been writing “hot checks” to pay for its expenditures. At some point in time, that debt will have to be repaid—and it’s not going to be pretty.[44]

To return to our story: along with the attacks on unions, unfunded wars, etc., the philosophy of neo-liberal economics collapsed our dominant societal values into one thing: profitability. If something enhances the potential of increased profitability of business, it is good; if it does not—no matter how important anything else is—it is bad. If regulations on food or air/water quality or worker/food safety cost corporations money, they are bad and should be immediately disbanded, no matter how beneficial they are to people, the environment or to our general social order. It is this “philosophy” that the US government has been pushing around the world, and it has hurt billions of people, including tens of millions within the United States.

What this has meant for labor is that anything that has limited business’ power in the workplace—unions themselves, strikes, any type of health and safety regulations, etc.—has been attacked by corporations. Additionally, through legislative and/or court decisions, actions that have limited workers’ collective power—protecting strike breakers, contract labor, and efforts to destroy unions through privatizing public services, etc.—have been supported. Again, anything that hinders or reduces profitability, no matter how much of a social good it provides—is bad: that is the philosophy and impact of neo-liberal economics.

Yet something else has happened in the United States in addition to adopting neo-liberal economics. The social upsurge during the 1960s-early 1970s—including the Civil Rights/Black Power movements, the women’s movement, the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) movement, the environmental movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, and especially the anti-Vietnam War movement inside the US military—scared the crap out of the ruling elites. They decided that they would do whatever they could do to ensure that collectivity, and especially collective action, would never again raise its ugly head in this social order.[45]

To accomplish this, they have been creating a culture of individualism to undercut any aspirations of collectivity. Basically, as long as you and your loved ones are ok, you do not have to worry about the well-being of anyone else in the country—and, in fact, they told people that caring about others would undermine their individual interests. They created what I called the “I’ve got mine, screw you, Jack” culture and society. And this “screw you, Jack” ideology has been very successful: despite growing income inequality in the United States—that is more extreme than some of the poorest nations on the planet (e.g., Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Mozambique, Uganda, and Vietnam)—there was no nationwide discussion of this income inequality from about 1973 until the Occupy Wall Street movement that emerged in the Fall of 2011, almost 40 years.[46]

So, starting probably in about 1978, but specifically with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, right-wing ideologues (including their allies in the mainstream media, such as FOX after 1996 and the rest) have deceived the country into believing that anything that hinders business’ potential for enhanced profitability is bad, and that all forms of collectivity are self-defeating. Thus, Reagan not only moved the Republican Party to the far right, but he got the Democratic Party to move to the right as well: arguably, no subsequent US presidential administration has passed as liberal a domestic program as Richard Nixon’s between 1969-73.[47]

We can get some idea of the impact of all of this on ordinary Americans when we look at economic growth between 1973-2001, and especially when we compare the data in Figure 1 (1947-73), above:

Figure 2:  US Family Income, in US dollars, Growth and Distribution, by quintile,

1973-2001, in 2005 Dollars

 

  Lowest 20% Second 20 % Third 20% Fourth 20% 95th Percentile[48]

 

1973 $23,144 $38,188 $53,282 $73,275 $114,234
2001 $26,467 $45,355 $68,925 $103,828 $180,973
Difference (28 years) $3,323

(14%)

$7,167

(19%)

$15,643

(29%)

$30,553

(42%)

$66,739

(58%)

 

Source:            US Commerce Department, Bureau of the Census (hereafter, US Census Bureau) at www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/histinc/f01ar.html.  This data no longer available.  All dollar values converted to 2005 dollars by US Census Bureau, removing inflation and comparing real values.   Differences and percentages calculated by author. Percentages shown in row labeled “Difference” show the dollar difference as a percentage of the first year of the comparison and have been rounded.

When looking at the figures for 1973-2001, something vastly different can be observed.  What can be seen?  First, economic growth has slowed considerably:  the highest rate of growth for any quintile was that of 58 percent for those who topped the fifth quintile, and this was far below the “lagger” of 91 percent of the earlier period.

Second, of what growth there was, it was distributed extremely unequally.  And the growth rates for those in lower quintiles were generally lower than for those above them:  for the bottom quintile, their real income grew only 14 percent over the 1973-2001 period; for the second quintile, 19 percent; for the third, 29 percent; for the fourth, 42 percent; and for the 80-95 percent, 58 percent:  loosely speaking, the rich are getting richer, and the poor poorer.

Why the change?  I think three things in particular.  First, as industrialized countries recovered from World War II, corporations based in these countries could again compete with those from the US—first in their own home countries, and then through importing into the US, and then ultimately when they invested in the United States.  Think of Toyota:  they began importing into the US in the early 1970s, and with their investments here in the early ‘80s and forward, they now are the second largest domestic US auto producer.

Second was the restructuring of the US economy, which I discussed above, moving from oligopolistic control to commanding global supply chains.  On the corporate management level, they obviously made decisions to do this restructuring.  Big business organizations worked very hard to find and elect politicians who would pass laws/make policies that would allow them to restructure and implement the projects they sought.  They supported Supreme Court candidates who would accept such changes and allow these changes to be institutionalized.  And they would work with foreign governments who would allow them into their countries, and especially where governmental leaders were willing to keep a tight rein on any workers’ movement that might emerge.  And the biggest prize was opening China to foreign transnational investment.

After a long-range and extensive campaign among politicians and the American public by the largest transnational business organizations,

China’s accession to the WTO [World Trade Organization] followed a little more than a year later.  It was a tremendous accomplishment for the interests of transnational capital, as US and EU policymakers negotiated concessions that far exceeded those of previous less developed country (LDC) members (Breslin, 2000).  These concessions would allow US transnational firms to deepen their profitability by allowing them greater access to the China market and by enabling them to integrate China into their global supply chains.  In short, China’s accession to WTO was a watershed for transnational capital, particularly for high-tech firms that were the most poised to incorporate China into already existing networks of transnational accumulation (emphasis added) (Cox and Lee, 2012: 36).

And as these transnational corporations integrated China into their global supply chains, they downsized and/or closed their US production facilities, wiping out millions of jobs in the United States.[49]

Third cause for the change has been the deterioration of the American labor movement:  from 35.3 percent of the non-agricultural workforce in unions in 1954, to only 12.0 percent of all American workers in unions in 2006—and only 7.4 percent of all private industry workers are unionized, which is less than in 1930![50]

This decline in unionization has a number of reasons.  Part of this deterioration has been the result of government policies—everything from the crushing of the air traffic controllers when they went on strike by the Reagan Administration in 1981, to reform of labor law, to reactionary appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees administration of labor law.  Certainly, a key government policy, signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton, has been the North American Free Trade Act or NAFTA.  One analyst came straight to the point:

Since … [NAFTA] was signed in 1993, the rise in the US trade deficit with Canada and Mexico through 2002 has caused the displacement of production that supported 879,280 US jobs.  Most of these lost jobs were high-wage positions in manufacturing industries.  The loss of these jobs is just the most visible tip of NAFTA’s impact on the US economy.  In fact, NAFTA has also contributed to rising income inequality, suppressed real wages for production workers, weakened workers’ collective bargaining powers and ability to organize unions, and reduced fringe benefits (Scott, 2003: 1).

These attacks by elected officials have been joined by the effects due to the restructuring of the economy, especially by the largest transnational corporations.  There has been a shift from manufacturing to services.

However, within manufacturing, which has long been a union stronghold, there has been significant job loss:  between July 2000 and January 2004, the US lost three million manufacturing jobs, or 17.5 percent, and 5.2 million since the historical peak in 1979, so that “Employment in manufacturing [in January 2004] was its lowest since July 1950” (CBO, 2004).

The job loss across the manufacturing sector was widespread and deep:

The AFL-CIO details the American job loss by the manufacturing sector in the 2001-05 period:

Computers and electronics: 543,000 workers or 29.2 per cent

Semiconductor and electronic components: 260,100 or 36.7 per cent

Electrical equipment and appliances: 152,500 or 26 per cent

Vehicle parts: 153,400 or 18.6 per cent

Machinery: 289,400 or 19.9 per cent

Fabricated metal products: 235,200 or 13.3 per cent

Primary metals: 144,800 or 23.5 per cent

Transportation equipment: 246,300 or 12.1 per cent

Furniture products: 58,500 or 13.4 per cent

Textile mills: 158,500 or 43.6 per cent

Apparel 220,000 or 46.6 per cent

Leather products: 24,700 or 38.3 per cent

Printing: 159,300 or 19.9 per cent

Paper products: 122,600 or 20.4 per cent

Plastics and rubber products: 141,400 or 15 per cent

Chemicals: 94,900 or 9.7 per cent

Aerospace: 46,900 or 9.1 per cent

Textiles and apparel declined by 870,000 jobs 1994-2006, a decline of 65.5 per cent (Source: AFL-CIO, 2006: 2, cited in Scipes, 2009: 16-17).

This is due to shifting to global supply chains at the highest levels (such as computers and other information technology-related products along with automobiles), combined with general outsourcing of labor-intensive production overseas (such as garments, textiles, and shoes) and, more importantly, technological displacement as new technology has enabled greater production at higher quality with fewer workers in capital-intensive production such as steel (see Fisher, 2004).

There are multiple “causes” given for these changes in manufacturing in addition to the above.  Some analysts have blamed burgeoning trade deficits for the rise: “… an increasing share of domestic demand for manufacturing output is satisfied by foreign rather than domestic producers” (Bivens, 2005).  Others have even attributed it to changes in consumer preferences (Schweitzer and Zaman, 2006).  Whatever the reason, of the 50 states, only five (Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming) did not see any job loss in manufacturing between 1993-2003, yet 37 lost between 5.6 and 35.9 percent of their manufacturing jobs during this period (Public Policy Institute, 2004).

However, part of the credit for deterioration of the labor movement must be given to the labor movement itself:  the leadership has been simply unable to confront these changes, and, at the same time, they have consistently worked against any independent action by rank-and-file members.[51]

However, it must be asked: are the changes in the economy presented herein merely statistical manipulations, or is this indicating something real?

This point can be illustrated another way:  by using CAGR, the Compound Annual Growth Rate, a tool commonly used in the financial world.  This is a single number that is computed, based on compounded amounts, across a range of years, to come up with an average number to represent the rate of increase or decrease each year across the entire period.  This looks pretty complex, but it is based on the same idea as compound interest used in our savings accounts:  you put in $10 today and (this is obviously not a real example) because you get ten percent interest, so you have $11 the next year.  Well, the following year, interest is not computed off the original $10, but is computed on the $11.  So, by the third year, from your $10, you now have $12.10.  Etc.  And this is what is meant by the Compound Annual Growth Rate:  this is compound growth averaged by year across a designated period.

Based on the numbers presented above in Figure 1, the author calculated the Compound Annual Growth Rate by quintiles (Figure 3). The annual growth rate has been calculated for the first period, 1947-1973, the years known as the “golden years” of US society.  What has happened since then?  Compare results from the 1947-73 period to the annual growth rate across the second period, 1973-2001, again calculated by the author.

Figure 3:  Annual average percentage of family income growth, by quintile,

1947-1973 compared to 1973-2001

 

Population by quintiles 1947-1973 1973-2001

 

95th Percentile 2.51% 1.66%
Fourth quintile 2.72% 1.25%
Third quintile 2.84% .92%
Second quintile 2.73% .62%
Lowest quintile 2.64% .48%

 

Source:            Calculated by author from gather provided by the US Census Bureau at www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/histinc/f01ar.html.  (Page no longer available.)

What we can see here is that while everyone’s income was growing at about the same rate in the first period—between 2.51 and 2.84 percent annually—by the second period, not only had growth slowed down across the board, but it grew by very different rates:  what we see here, again, is that the rich are getting richer, and the poor poorer.

If these figures are correct, a change over time in the percentage of income received by each quintile should be observable. Ideally, if society were egalitarian, each 20 percent of the population would get 20 percent of the income in any one year.  In reality, it differs.  To understand Figure 4, below, one must not only look at the percentage of income held by a quintile across the chart, comparing selected year by selected year, but one needs to look to see whether a quintile’s share of income is moving toward or away from the ideal 20 percent.

Figure 4:  Percentage of family income distribution by quintile,

1947, 1973, 2001.  2005 Dollars[52]

 

Population by quintiles 1947 1973 2001

 

Top fifth (lower limit of top 5 percent, or 95th Percentile)– $184,500 43.0% 41.1% 47.7%
 Second fifth–$103,100 23.1%  24.0% 22.9%
 Third fifth–$68,304 17.0%  17.5% 15.4%
 Fourth fifth–$45,021 11.9%  11.9% 9.7%
 Bottom fifth–$25,616 5.0%  5.5% 4.2%

.

Source:            U.S. Census Bureau at www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/histinc/f02ar.html :  no longer available

Unfortunately, much of the data available publicly ended in 2001.  However, in the summer of 2007, after years of not releasing data any later than 2001, the Census Bureau released income data up to 2005.  It allows us to examine what has taken place regarding family income inequality during the first four years of the Bush Administration.

Figure 5: US Family Income, in US dollars, Growth and Distribution, by quintile,

2001-2005, 2005 Dollars

 

  Lowest 20% Second 20% Middle 20% Fourth 20% Lowest level of top 5%
2001 $26,467 $45,855 $68,925 $103,828 $180,973
2005 $25,616 $45,021 $68,304 $103,100 $184,500
Difference

(4 years)

-$851

(-3.2%)

-$834

(-1.8%)

-$621

(-.01%)

-$728

(-.007%)

$3,527

(1.94%)

 

Source:  US Census Bureau at www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/histinc/f01ar.html:  no longer available.  (These values are from their 2005 dollar values and were calculated by the Census Bureau.)  Differences and percentages calculated by author, and percentages rounded.

Thus, what we’ve seen under the first four years of the Bush Administration is that for at most Americans, their economic situation has worsened:  not only has overall economic growth for any quintile slowed to a minuscule 1.94 percent at the most, but that the bottom 80 percent actually lost income; losing money (an absolute loss), rather than growing a little but falling further behind the top quintile (a relative loss).  Further, the decrease across the bottom four quintiles has been suffered disproportionately by those in the lowest 40 percent of society.

This can perhaps be seen more clearly by examining CAGR rates by period.

We can now add the results of the 2001-2005 period share of income by quintile to our earlier chart:

Figure 6:  Percentage of annual average income growth per year by percentile, 1947-2005

 

Population by quintiles  1947-1973  1973-2001 2001-2005
 Top 95 percentile 2.51% 1.66% .48%
 Fourth fifth 2.72% 1.25% -.18%
 Third fifth 2.84% .92% -.23%
 Second fifth 2.73% .62% -.46%
 Bottom fifth 2.64% .48% -.81%

 

Source:  Calculated by author from data gathered from the US Department of the Census www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/histinc/f01ar.html:  no longer available.

As can be seen below, the percentage of family income at each of the four bottom quintiles is less in 2005 than in 1947; the only place there has been improvement over this 58-year period is at the 95th percentile (and above).

 

Figure 7:  Percentage of family income distribution by quintile,

1947, 1973, 2001, 2005

 

Population by quintiles 1947 1973 2001 2005

 

Top fifth (lower limit of         top 5percent, or 95th             Percentile)– $184,500 43.0%  41.1% 47.7% 48.1%
 Second fifth–$103,100 23.1%  24.0% 22.9% 22.9%
 Third fifth–$68,304 17.0%  17.5% 15.4% 15.3%
 Fourth fifth–$45,021 11.9%  11.9% 9.7% 9.6%
 Bottom fifth–$25,616 5.0%  5.5% 4.2% 4.0%

 

Source:            U.S. Census Bureau at www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/histinc/f02ar.html:  no longer available.

What has been presented so far, regarding changes in income distribution, has been at the group level within the US social order; in this case, quintile by quintile.  It is time now to see how this has affected society overall.

Sociologists and economists use a number called the Gini index to measure inequality.  Family income data has been used so far, and we will continue using it.  A Gini index is fairly simple to use.  It measures inequality in a society.  A Gini index is generally reported in a range between 0.000 and 1.000, and is usually written in thousandths, just like a winning percentage mark:  three digits after the decimal.  The thing to remember is this:  the higher the Gini score, the greater the inequality.

Looking at the Gini index, we can see two periods since 1947, when the US Government began computing the Gini index for the country.  From 1947-1968, with yearly change greater or smaller, the trend is downward, indicating reduced inequality:  from .376 in 1947 to .378 in 1950, but then downward to .348 in 1968.  So, again, over the first period, the trend is downward.

What has happened since then?  From the low point in 1968 of .348, the trend has been upward.  In 1982, the Gini index hit .380, which was higher than any single year between 1947-1968, and the US has never gone below .380 since then.  By 1992, it hit .403, and we’ve never gone back below .400.  In 2001, the US hit .435.  But the score for 2005 has only recently been published:  .440.[53] So, the trend is getting worse, and with the policies established under George W. Bush, I see them only continuing to increase in the forthcoming period.  [And by the way, this increasing trend has continued under both the Republicans and the Democrats, but since the Republicans have controlled the presidency for 18 of the last 26 years (since 1981), they get most of the credit—but let’s not forget that the Democrats have controlled Congress across many of those years, so they, too, have been an equal opportunity destroyer!]

However, one more question must be asked:  how does this income inequality in the US compare to other countries around the world?  Is the level of income inequality comparable to other “developed” societies, or is it comparable to “developing” countries?

We must turn to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for our data.  The CIA computes Gini scores for family income on most of the countries around the world, and the last time checked in 2007 (August 1), they had data on 122 countries on their web page and these numbers had last been updated on July 19, 2007 (US Central Intelligence Agency, 2007).  With each country listed, there is a Gini score provided.  Now, the CIA doesn’t compute Gini scores yearly, but they give the last year it was computed, so these are not exactly equivalent, but they are suggestive enough to use.  However, when they assemble these Gini scores in one place, they list them alphabetically, which is not of much comparative use (US Central Intelligence Agency, 2007).

However, the World Bank categorizes countries, which means they can be compared within category and across categories.  The World Bank, which does not provide Gini scores, puts 208 countries into one of four categories based on Gross National Income per capita—that’s total value of goods and services sold in the market in a year, divided by population size.  This is a useful statistic, because it allows us to compare societies with economies of vastly different size:  per capita income removes the size differences between countries.

The World Bank locates each country into one of four categories:  lower income, lower middle income, upper middle income, and high income (World Bank, 2007a). Basically, those in the lower three categories are “developing” or what we used to call “third world” countries, while the high income countries are all of the so-called developed countries.

The countries listed by the CIA with their respective Gini scores were placed into the specific World Bank categories in which the World Bank had previously located them (World Bank, 2007b).   Once grouped in their categories, median Gini scores were computed for each group.   When trying to get one number to represent a group of numbers, median is considered more accurate than an average, so the median was used, which means half of the scores are higher, half are lower—in other words, the data is at the 50th percentile for each category.

The Gini score for countries, by Gross National Income per capita, categorized by the World Bank:

Figure 8:  Median Gini Scores by World Bank income categories (countries selected by US Central Intelligence Agency were placed in categories developed by the World Bank) and compared to 2004 US Gini score as calculated by US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

 

Income category Median Gini score Gini score, US (2004)

 

Low income countries

(less than $875/person/year)

Examples:  Bangladesh, Ghana,             Moldova, Sierra Leon,   Zimbabwe

 

.406 .450
Lower-middle income countries (between $876-3,465/person/year)

Examples: Algeria, Colombia, Honduras, Romania, Ukraine

 

.414 .450
 Upper-middle income countries (between $3,466-10,725/person/year

Examples: Chile, Estonia, Malaya, Panama, Venezuela

 

.370 .450
Upper-income countries

(over $10,726/person/year

Examples: Australia, Finland, Italy, Slovenia, USA

 

.316 .450

 

As can be seen, with the (CIA-calculated) Gini score of .450, the US family income is more unequal than the medians for each category and is more unequal than some of the poorest countries on earth, such as Bangladesh (.318—calculated in 2000), Cambodia (.400, 2004 est.), Laos (.370-1997), Mozambique (.396, 1996-97), Uganda (.430-1999) and Vietnam (.361, 1998).  This same finding also holds true using the more conservative Census Bureau-calculated Gini score of .440.[54]

Thus, the US has not only become more unequal over the 40 years, as has been demonstrated above, but has attained a level of inequality that is much more comparable to those of developing countries in general and, in fact, is more unequal today than some of the poorest countries on Earth!  There is nothing suggesting that this increasing inequality will lessen anytime soon.  And since this increasing income inequality has taken place under the leadership of both major political parties, there is nothing on the horizon that suggests either will resolutely address this issue in the foreseeable future regardless of campaign promises made.

However, to move beyond discussion of whether the Democrats or Republicans are likely to address these and related issues, some consideration of governmental economic policies is required.  Thus, any president will be constrained by decisions made by previous administrations, as well as by the ideological blinders worn by those chosen to serve at the top levels of an administration.[55]

In short, for about 30 years (1982-2011), there was not a great deal of visible protest in the United States, as implementation of the neo-liberal program along with creation of an individualist culture had a debilitating effect on social movements and other political projects, as they were meant to do.

The economic situation in the United States has been bad and it has taken a long time for working people’s economic situation to improve even to the extent it has.  Obviously, the 2008-09 Great Recession was a disaster for most working people in this country.

We can see this by examining the economic situation circa 2013.[56]  The US economy for workers was in bad shape by 2007, prior to the onset of the Great Recession (see above for details from Scipes, 2009; see also Greenhouse, 2008). Subsequently, over 8.7 million jobs were lost since the Great Recession, between late 2007-mid 2009 (Barello, 2014), and American median income tumbled down 8.9% since 1999, the peak year since World War II; and median income for men and women de­clined 2.5% from 2010 to 2011 (DeNavas-Walt, Proctor, and Smith, 2012: 5).

Writing in late 2010, David Leonhardt of the New York Times wrote:

Right now, the estimate is that 9.4 million jobs would need to be added imme­diately to get the jobless rate down to 6%, which some economists are calling “full employment.” That used to be around 4%, so these are skewed estimates. Nonetheless, the estimates are this: if the economy provided 300,000 jobs a month, we wouldn’t end the job shortfall until the middle of 2014. (In other words, that would get us down to 6% unemployment.) If the economy grew at 250,000 jobs a month, which was the pace of the mid-1990s during the longest expansion of the economy since World War II, we wouldn’t end the job shortfall under early 2016. And if the economy provided 200,000 jobs a month, the job shortfall wouldn’t end until early 2020.

How were we actually doing? The title of a front page New York Times article on January 8, 2011, by Michael Powell and Sewell Chan suggested the answer: “Slow Job Growth Dims Expectation of Early Revival: Unemploy­ment rate is 9.4%—Recovery Could Require Another 4 or 5 Years, Fed’s Chief Says.” These reporters noted that in December 2010, only 103,000 jobs were added, unemployment was expected to remain over eight percent throughout the rest of Obama’s first term, and the so-called “real” unemploy­ment rate—which includes workers who are discouraged and have given looking for work, or who are working only part time when they seek full-time work—stood at 16.7 percent. Further, they quoted one analyst saying, “We are seeing evidence of structural employment among those in the prime, higher-earning 35- to 44-year old demographic where unemployment actually increased in December,” and they reported an estimate that it would take until 2037 to regain the number of jobs lost during the great recession, which is what they’re calling this crisis since 2007 (Powell and Chan, 2011).

So far—as I wrote in mid-2013—things have worked out somewhat better than this, although not by much. Only 165,000 jobs were added in July 2013, and the unemployment rate was at 7.4 percent, only a little below the 7.8 per­cent level at which it had been between September and December 2012, and the lowest it’s been since 2008. A number of Americans had simply dropped out of the labor market, making things look better than they really were: “For every 100 American adults, 63 had jobs before the recession; now, only 59 do.”

The unemployment rate is falling nonetheless because it only counts people actively seeking work. And since the recession, a growing number of Americans are not even trying to find jobs. Some have given up; others appear to be avoid­ing the labor market by staying in school or at home (New York Times, 2013).

Along with the jobs situation, poverty was increasing. The national pov­erty rate—at a terribly insufficient level that is approximately half of what is needed for long-term survival[57]—jumped from 13.2 percent in 2008 to 15 percent in 2011, while the numbers of people increased across the same years from 39.6 million to 46.2 million, the highest since the government began gathering data in 1959 (DeNavas-Walt, Proctor, and Smith, 2012: 13).

Poverty had increased when we examined the experiences of the different racial and ethnic groupings, too. Poverty among whites grew from 8.6 percent in 2008 to 9.8 percent in 2011, while the Black impoverishment rate jumped from 24.7 percent to 27.6 percent; Latino impoverishment increased from 23.2 percent to 25.3 percent in 2011; while Asian impoverishment remained ap­proximately stable around 12.5 percent.[58]

Poverty for children under 18 also worsened: from 19 percent in 2008 to 21.9 percent in 2011 (DeNavas-Walt, Proctor, and Smith, 2012: 13). This is not surprising, as a 2010 report by researchers at the National Center for Children in Poverty stated, “Children represent 25 percent of the population. Yet, they comprise 36 percent of all the people in poverty. Among children, 42 percent live in low-income families [defined as below 200 percent of the poverty line-KS], and of those, 25 percent live in poor families [below the poverty line-KS]” (Chau, Thampi, and Wight, 2010).  Writing in the New York Times, Charles M. Blow noted, “The number of children living in poverty has risen 33 percent since 2000,” while the child population only increased about three percent during the same time. Further, he reports that, “according to a 2007 UNICEF report on child poverty, the US ranked last among 24 wealthy nations” (Blow, 2010). As Paul Krugman wrote in the New York Times, “neuroscientists have found that ‘many children growing up in very poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which impair their neural development.’ The effect is to impair language development and memory for the rest of a child’s life” (Krugman, 2008). In plain language: poverty poisons children’s brains.

Tragically, of those living below the poverty line, 44 percent of all people in poverty lived at half of the official poverty line or lower; that was 6.6 percent of the national population, increasing from 17.1 million in 2008 to 20.4 mil­lion in 2011. Altogether, 34.3 percent of all Americans lived below 200 per­cent of the poverty threshold (DeNavas-Walt, Proctor, and Smith, 2012: 17).[59]

What was causing this social devastation?  With the adoption of a neo-liberal economic program in desperate response to this intensifying global economic competition and threat to the US Empire, Reagan and his successors accelerated their attacks on the unions and working people in general. Corporations that employed many workers (i.e., were “labor intensive”) closed their operations at home and moved overseas, especially to places such as Mexico and China, where workers were controlled, and wages were limited. Corporations that relied on high-cost machinery (“capital intensive”) stayed in the US, but subsequent developments of their required machinery required fewer and fewer workers.[60]  On top of that, taxes were cut for the wealthy and corporations, allowing cases to be made to cut social services, despite many people increasingly needing them.

Steve Fraser discusses the impact:

During the 1970s alone, between 32 and 38 million jobs were lost due to …disinvestment, which was common practice in old (New England textile factories) and new industries alike (New England aircraft manufacturers). Manufacturing, which after the Second World War accounted for nearly 30 percent of the economy, by 2011 had dropped to a bit more than 10 percent. Since the turn of the millennium alone, 3.5 million manufacturing jobs have vanished and 42,000 manufacturing plants closed. On average between the years 2000 and 2011,
seventeen American manufacturers closed each day (Fraser, 2015: 235).[61]

Although things were bad before the 2008-09 Great Recession, the Recession ripped the scab off Americans’ unwillingness understand the impact of these economic changes on their neighbors and co-workers. Sarah Jaffe (2016: 20) reports that approximately 8.7 million jobs were lost between December 2007 and early 2010.[62]

Economic and social conditions for many workers across the country plummeted, as Steve Fraser (2015: 223-263) brilliantly, but tragically, illuminates.

The fact is that capitalism can no longer provide jobs and economic opportunity for nearly as many people as it provided for in the past. And this will become limited to fewer and fewer people as time passes.

This job loss is going to continue if not actually escalate. Although much rhetoric has been expended on blaming foreigners and “unfair trade competition” for US job losses, research by Michael Hicks and Srikant Devaraj (2015) of Ball State University in Indiana has shown that between 2000-2010, automation was responsible for 88 percent of all job losses in this period, while trade was responsible for 13 percent of the job losses. Already, according to McKinsey and Company, 45 percent of all jobs being done in early 2016 could be automated (Miller, 2016).

But what about those declining unemployment figures? According to Lawrence B. Katz of Harvard and Alan B. Krueger of Princeton, both members of the National Bureau of Economic Research, all of the jobs created from 2005 to 2015 were of sub-standard conditions, meaning they were temporary help agency workers, on-call workers, contract company workers, and independent contractors or freelancers (Katz and Krueger, 2016), and which generally resulted in lower pay, fewer benefits, and less economic security overall.

In short, things are bad, and all indications are that they will only get worse for increasing
numbers of working people. Between 1999 and 2014, people making less than $42,000 for a family of three lost ten percent of their income; for those between $42,000 and $125,000, their incomes declined by six percent; and for those making more than $125,000, their income fell by seven percent over this period. Overall, “Nationwide, the median income for US households in 2014 stood at 8 percent less than in 1999” with “median incomes falling in 190 of 229 metropolitan areas examined” (Pew, 2016: 10)

Things had not changed dramatically by 2021.  With a poverty threshold of $27,740 for a family of four, 11.6 percent of all Americans were in poverty, numbering 37.9 million people.  Poverty rates for racial/ethnic groups that year were 10.0 percent for whites, 19.5 percent for Blacks, 8.3 percent for Asians, 24.3 percent for American Indians and Alaskan Natives, 14.2 percent for Two or More Races, and 17.1 percent for Hispanics (US Bureau of Census, 2022).

SYNOPSIS

The preceding four parts have laid out a view that differs vastly from what we are consistently told by our corporate, government, media, and even many of our teachers.  You, dear reader, are going to have to decide whether what has been laid out for you makes sense or not.  If it doesn’t make sense to you, ignore it; throw it out.  On the other hand, if it makes sense, what have you learned?

I think there are several arguments that have been presented and, I’d argue, have been well made and strongly supported.  I will discuss them and then, afterwards, I’ll discuss some possible ramifications for your consideration.

  • We can only understand what’s going on in this country—and, by implication, elsewhere—by looking at things from a global level. We must come to grips with the US being the heartland of the US Empire:  this is crucial to understand the tremendous number of resources that have been diverted away from “ordinary” Americans—such as money for funding public education, health care and infrastructure; addressing social inequalities and inequities; and mitigating and adapting to climate change and other forms of environmental destruction, etc.—which has meant worsening conditions if not actual deprivation for growing numbers of people.  In other words, I’m arguing we cannot make sense of things if we confine our thinking and analysis solely to the national level; we must take a global approach!
  • US political, economic, and military leaders have betrayed most Americans: efforts by US “leaders” to dominate the world are not beneficial to people around the world nor ordinary Americans, serving only the elites, and complicity with this betrays the interests of the large majority of the world’s peoples.  These so-called “leaders” have ravaged other countries—can we begin with Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan? The list is actually much, much longer—while using resources to do such that should go to improving this country and people within it.
  • In addition to supporting military operations around the world, economic leaders have sought our consent to their global operations around the world, suggesting that top-down globalization is inevitable, preferable, and unchallengeable.
  • The privately held media is guilty of projecting their interests as if they were those of the US people. These are capitalist corporations whose primary purpose is to make a profit for investors and top-level managers, not to necessarily inform people, and certainly not beyond what corporate elites think ordinary people should be told.  This is more than just television and cable news shows, but definitely includes the movie industry in all of its aspects.  We must confiscate the assets of private media and distribute them to community-based organizations around the country.
  • This paper argues that there is another form differing from top-down corporate/militaristic globalization and that is bottom-up, life-enhancing globalization, generally represented by the global economic and social justice (GESJ)   Groups and organizations have been fighting this top-down globalization for decades and in multiple locations around the globe, and efforts are intensifying to link them up to fight in solidarity with other liked minded groups and organizations.  Groups and organizations that are fighting economic and political domination, even if not consciously doing from a global perspective, are objectively part of this global project, and we need to seek their conscious adherence to and understanding of the GESJ movement.  Political movements and particular struggles worldwide should seek to advance the values, issues, and perspectives of the GESJ movement, and should consciously seek out other existing organizations for the purpose of building and furthering this global movement.
  • This paper implicitly argues that the values of the GESJ movement—enhancing life in all of its forms, ending inequities between all people, while valuing the natural environment—are much more congruent with most Americans than are efforts to dominate people at home and around the world.
  • At the same time, this paper has conclusively established that the political-economic system in the United States can no longer guarantee an expanding and more equal social order; in fact, it can only provide a disintegrating social order where inequities continue to grow. In other words, there is no possible return to the “golden years” (1947-1973), and anyone propagating otherwise is lying.
  • And, finally, the US is officially bankrupt; the US government owes rich people and other countries who have bought our bonds over $32 trillion dollars, over 100% of the annual gross national product—and growing. All of the central bankers of the world know this.  Should another country demand a shift in global reserves from dollars to a basket of currencies or a single currency (say, the Euro), this will likely cause our economy to crash.  Perhaps unlikely in the short, or even medium term, this is all-but-certain over a longer period of time.  When it happens—and it will—it could make the Great Depression a child’s game.
  • In other words, while the current social order can hold in the short and perhaps even medium term, it definitely cannot hold in the longer term. There is an economic/social collapse heading our way—and our military power won’t prevent it—and the longer we wait to address these concerns, the greater the social devastation will be upon its arrival.

However, it should be noted that these findings have been presented without any stated concern about climate change and environmental destruction, which is increasingly being seen as even a greater immediate threat to life on this planet than social collapse such as presented here.

The threat is from capitalism itself, our political-economic system.  To endure, capitalism must constantly expand production.  Yet it is expanding production that is attacking our atmosphere, which protects Earth from solar energy, ultimately weakening this protection, threatening the very existence of human, animal, and most plant life on this planet by the turn of the 22nd Century.

In short, we have to reject capitalism in all of its forms, with its dependence on continued growth.  We are going to have to make some difficult but essential choices around the essential question:  continued growth with human extermination in the not-too-distant future, or creation of a world where production is minimized to essential levels, where environmental destruction is ended or at least severely constrained, where this production is done in the least detrimental manner and then done in the most egalitarian form conceivable, and where this production is distributed globally in the fairest manner possible.

To summarize:  things are much worse than presented in this paper alone.  A growing number of people are recognizing the worsening situation.  Still, we have a long way to go.  A few small steps that should be considered.

Possible ramifications:

  • We must understand that these choices have been made by politicians and their appointees that we elect, and that a political system that is funded by private and/or corporate donations is almost a guaranteed cesspool of malfeasance and corruption. We must end private/corporate donations and replace our election funding with public funding and strongly enforceable election laws that preclude jerrymandering and other projects that inhibit anyone from voting.
  • We must drastically reduce our military and the funding on which it operates. We must close all US military bases—formal and informal, temporary or permanent—outside of the United States, and we must drastically reduce the number of bases inside the US.  It seems that a 90 percent annual reduction in war spending is reasonable, will still protect the United States, and should be sought immediately; this should be combined with seeking similar spending cuts by each country in the world.
  • We must greatly increase taxes on those making over $200,000 a year, and this must be progressive taxation: the more you make, the more you pay.  Only one residence can be eligible for tax write-offs, and even that is ineligible beyond a certain square footage in size.  We must demand that no one owns a second house until all have one.
  • Governmental spending must be transferred from propagating war projects to enhancing life, ending inequities, and valuing the natural environment in the US and around the world.
  • These suggestions are much too limited, and I hope others will eagerly surpass them.

CONCLUSION

The rhetoric US political and corporate “leaders” have been using on the American population—and which the mainstream media has been dutifully transmitting—suggests that things are wonderful and that we should not question them or their operations, either at home or overseas.  Accepting this, we have allowed them to manipulate us and to do and accept things that have hurt people around the world as well as most Americans.

It is time to stop our acquiescence:  we need to think critically, we need to focus on what’s important for all of us, and we need to build organizations that create power from the ground-upward.  And we need to do this in alliance and consultation with good people around the world:  we either do this or perish ignobly.

By discussing the issues of imperialism, globalization, and neo-liberal economics—issues not commonly discussed in US society—we hopefully now understand, or are beginning to understand, that there are forces effecting US society that are critical to understand but which most Americans are consciously being denied knowledge thereof.  This is not a mistake; I argue it is intentional:  our elites want to keep us confused, angry at each other, and thus unable to engage in collective action against them to change the situation. 

This article began with a discussion of concepts to help us understand what is truly taking place.  It was not just done for general purposes, but to show that we need to seek and/or create social forces that will allow people to have a chance to change things for the better.  Clearly, if there’s anything to be learned from examining the past 40 years, it is that the economic and political elites of this country have consciously acted to initiate changes that have caused the resulting social problems, and they are not going to solve these problems for us:  we have to get off our couches, off our knees, and to seek allies wherever in the world that we can find, work with, and develop with them.[63]

Kim Scipes, PhD, a former printer, is a long-time trade unionist and labor activist, currently a member of the National Writers Union Local 1982, AFL-CIO.  He is also Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Purdue University Northwest in Westville, Indiana, USA.  He has published four books to date, and over 260 articles—in peer-reviewed, general specialty, and activist journals and newsletters—in the US and in 11 countries around the world.  His work, including his entire book on the KMU Labor Center of the Philippines, can be accessed for free at Publications – Purdue University Northwest (pnw.edu).  He is also a co-founder of LEPAIO (Labor Education Project on AFL-CIO International Operations), whose web site is at https://aflcio-int.education/.

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[1]    As will be quickly seen, I really think this goes back to at least 1945, but am focusing on the period since 1981 in this article.

[2]    Although I am terribly aware of the climate crisis and environmental destruction, and am increasingly writing about these subjects, I have chosen not to address them in this article.  For my web page where I focus on these issues, please go to my “Climate Crisis, Environmental Destruction, and Social Justice:  Resources” page, on-line for free, at https://www.pnw.edu/faculty/kim-scipes-ph-d/publications/climate-change-publication/, which also includes links to my related publications.

[3]    Some would argue that these dominating efforts began even earlier, in 1898, with the Spanish-American and Philippine-American wars.  Daniel Immerwahr (2019) takes it back further to the very arrival of the Europeans in the Americas in the late 1400s.

[4]    By “American nationalism,” I’m referring to the idea that the United States is the greatest country in the world, that it is superior to any others, that everybody in the world wants to live in the US, and that its’ leaders are more insightful, more knowledgeable, more compassionate than anyone else, and therefore, that everyone looks up to the US for global leadership as its leaders are righteous, their motives are “pure,” and this country is as close to paradise on earth as humanly exists.  Its actions, therefore, are unassailable.  This is fantasy projected as truth; it is an ideology, not based on any rational analysis of its history, nor on any rational basis today of US strengths and weaknesses.  It is nonsense.

This American nationalism is based on white supremacy, the idea that the lowest, no account white person is superior to the most accomplished person of color.  It, too, is based on fantasy and requires a complete and conscious misunderstanding of US history.  It is a total lie.

For an example of the deleterious effects of this American nationalism, it is argued that it helps drive the labor imperialism of the foreign policy leaders of the AFL-CIO (see Scipes, 2010a, 2010b, 2016a, 2022b).

[5]    In an excellent article discussing militarism in the US, and US military operations in a number of countries, David Gibbs (2012) puts this at least somewhat (not totally) in the context of globalization; as will be seen below, I disagree with this approach, and think he should have used the term “empire” instead of “military-industrial complex.”  I think his argument strongly supports the concept of empire.

[6]    I first met Dr. Jan Nederveen Pieterse when I attended the Institute for Social Studies in The Hague, The Netherlands at the invitation of Dr. Peter Waterman to do a Master’s Degree in Development Studies in August 1990 (briefly discussed in Scipes, 2021: xvi-xvii).  As will be seen, Nederveen Pieterse’s (unhyphenated double last name) work has had a profound impact on my subsequent development, and my referencing a number of his works is due to his foresight and clarity of his thinking and not simply because his mentorship and advice over the last 30 some-odd years, for which I thank him.

[7]    This section draws heavily on Scipes (2010a, b, 2016a), where I discuss and further develop the concept of imperialism and then specifically labor imperialism.

[8]    McNamara made his claim in Errol Morris’ 2003 film, “The Fog of War.”

In Ho Chi Minh City (formerly known as Saigon), Vietnam, which I have visited several times and where I taught during the summers of 2017 and ’18, the Remnants of War Museum has been established to remember the war in all of its tragedy.  There are rooms dedicated to the victims of Agent Orange poisoning, which continues to effect people currently, and some of the pictures are so shocking that this former US Marine has never been able to completely make it through the specific exhibition.

[9]    While I think many people know somewhat about the CIA, the NED much less known.  William Robinson (1996) writes extensively about their operations, and I include them in my 2010 book, AFL-CIO’s Secret War against Developing Country Workers (Scipes, 2010a: 96-105.). Also, for a couple of articles on their efforts in Venezuela, see Scipes, 2005, 2014a; see also Gill (2020), Gill and Hanson (2019), and Hanson and Gill (2019) for more recent US operations against Venezuela.

The work of William Blum (1986, 2000, 2014, 2015) has been especially important in detailing US foreign operations around the world in all its aspects.

[10] While the immediate focus herein is on the “weaker” country, I want to recognize that the “benefits” that go to the imperial country overall are not distributed equally to its peoples; these imperial country benefits are “shared” accordingly; i.e., unequally.  In fact, until people at the lower levels of an imperial country organize themselves so as to be able to force their elites to share the economic benefits, most if not all of the benefits are confined to the coffers of the elites, while the workers in the imperial country suffer continued exploitation.

The one time American workers have forced the political and economic elites to share their bounty has been during the 1948-1973 years, a period known as the “golden years of the US economy,” a result of massive expansion of the US labor movement in the 1930s and ‘40s, and its willingness to fight.  Although extremely influential on those who lived during this period, this period is an aberration in US history, and there are no indications that it will ever be replicated or repeated.

At the same time, however, it is primarily young, “working class” and poor men (and increasingly women) who are sent off by the elites to do their dirty work against the peoples of any targeted country, and who pay for this the rest of their lives—if they don’t lose them in combat or other military service—with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), alcoholism, etc. (see Gordon, Early, and Cravens, 2022).  The best of these veterans come to realize what they bought into and organize to oppose this, whether on active duty or, more commonly, after they get out.  The best example of this is VVAW, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, which is still around, and the wonderful paper The Veteran tells our story:  www.vvaw.org.  (This writer is a former Sergeant in the US Marine Corps who “turned around” while on active duty, 1969-73; fortunately, I was never sent to fight in Vietnam.)

 

[11] This is based on the concept of “hegemony,” advanced by the Italian political theorist and Marxist activist Antonio Gramsci (1982) in the 1930s.  Hegemony is a more nuanced form of control than suggested by the term “domination”; it recognizes social conflict, thus recognizing antagonistic interests, and refers to the idea of maintaining control by the stronger party through garnering “consent” from those it oppresses.  Basically, hegemony requires the dominating party to only win enough of the conflicts to maintain control, whereas domination requires winning every contest; the concept of hegemony allows more flexibility to controlling efforts than does domination.

I want to thank Kayla Vasilko, during personal conversations, for encouraging me to include the issues of hegemony and consent into my analysis.

[12] This is not of insignificant amounts of value.

Hickel, et. al., argue that in 2015, and using prevailing market prices, “the [global] North net expropriated from the South 12 billion tons of embodied raw material equivalents, 822 million hectares of embodied land, 21 exajoules of embodied energy, and 188 million person years of embodied labour, worth $10.8 trillion in Northern prices-enough to end extreme poverty 70 times over.  Over the whole period [1990-2015], drain from the South totaled $242 trillion (constant 2010 USD).  This drain represents a significant windfall for the global North, equivalent to a quarter of Northern GDP” (Hickel, Dorninger, Wieland, and Suwandi, 2022).

[13] As stated in a previous article: “This point could be debated, as many Marxists have a broader understanding of imperialism than mere economics. However, on a theoretical basis, this author argues that Lenin’s approach is economistic, and it is a theoretical basis that is being discussed here. In other words, in practice, the conceptualization has not been so limited, but practice has extended beyond what the theory allows” (Scipes, 2010b: 277, fn. #4).

Gramsci’s concept of hegemony extends dominatory relations beyond the mere economics of Lenin, focusing on the issue of social control, but arguably does not go beyond the economistic logic of Lenin’s imperialism.

[14] To clarify:  although we refer to these processes by a common name of imperialism, the particulars vary on the ground.  Thus, the way the British treated their colonies differed from the French, the Dutch, and Americans, etc.; at the same time, however, the processes of domination varied across colonies controlled by the same imperial country:  how the British treated India differed from their treatment of their North American colonies and from Nigeria.

[15] The Haitian Revolution of 1791 being a key example, having a profound impact on world history, although rarely acknowledged:  in addition to everything else, it challenges the myth of white supremacy.

The Haitians overthrew the (French) colonial regime, and then defeated Napoleon’s army when it invaded to restore colonial rule.  They defeated the British Army when it tried to take advantage of the French failure.  (To put in current terminology from boxing, these were the number 1 and number 2 contenders for heavyweight champion of the world at the time). See James, 1963.

In turn, this was the primary reason that Napoleon sold “New France” to the United States in 1803:  without Haiti, he could not defend his supply lines to New Orleans in the Western Atlantic and Caribbean from the British and Spanish navies, and various “pirates.”  New France was huge—most of today’s continental United States west of the Mississippi River except for the southwest, which was then controlled by Spain.  Selling to the US also precluded possible war in the future with France, as it was likely that the “Americans” would want to continue their “westward expansion.”

The Haitians also supported Simon Bolivar’s efforts to win freedom in northern South America, and helped inspire Nat Turner’s rebellion in the US slave states.

I wonder why we’re generally not taught this in US schools…?

[16] This paragraph from Scipes, 2018, where he reviews extensively McCoy’s 2017 book.

Although he uses the term “Military-Industrial Complex,” Gibbs’ (2012) description and analysis more properly fits under “empire.”

[17] For the origins of the National Security Act of 1947, and a compilation of related documents, see Santarsiero, 2022.

[18] A few countries—such as American Samoa and Puerto Rico (and probably others)—still remain colonies today.  A few remaining countries in every empire probably have not gotten their political independence.  Nonetheless, in general, these countries can be identified as “former colonies.”

[19]  There is a rich literature on the Philippines’ colonial and neocolonial relationships with the United States.  For one article that discusses the neocolonial relationship in a way that explicates this relationship, see Scipes (1999); for a more elaborate analysis of this neo-colonial relationship, see Shalom, 1981; and for more recent analyses, see Broad, 1988; Boyce, 1993, and Bello, 2009.

There are some countries that have pulled out of the economically-dependent relationship with previous colonial masters, becoming “post-colonial,” and have been rewarded with the undying enmity of the United States Empire, which has sought to punish them for such gall and has imposed heavy economic and political sanctions; Cuba after the 1959 Castro-led revolution, and Venezuela since the 1998 election of Hugo Chavez are prime examples.  Two previous examples, over a longer time period and with more complex histories, are Russia/Soviet Union and China.

[20] This section on “globalization” is taken from Scipes, 2016b:  2-3, 16-17.  On-line at https://www.academia.edu/25374866/INTRODUCTION_to_Scipes_ed_Building_Global
_Labor_Solidarity.  It has been reorganized and updated slightly.

[21] This point about unevenness is very important. It means that these processes affect countries differentially, and they can hit at different times, with different intensities, etc. In fact, they can affect different regions in the same country differentially.

This must be understood: globalization is not a single monolithic force sweeping the globe, affecting each social order, region, economy the same way at the same time. It is a series of processes that lead to “more intensive interaction across wider space and shorter time than before” (Nederveen Pieterse, 2015: 8), but its impact is uneven.

[22] Charles Tilly (2005) agrees with this long-term understanding: “Starting with the movement of humans out of Africa some fifty thousand years ago, humanity has globalized repeatedly.” He then discusses three waves of globalization that have taken place since 1500.

[23] Nederveen Pieterse (2008) examines the decline of the US in considerable detail; see also Scipes, 2009. McCoy, 2017 does this as well.  Needless to say, there are numbers of other works on this issue.

[24] Not all unions and labor centers are progressive; some can be terribly reactionary; see, for example, my work on the AFL-CIO’s labor imperialism (Scipes, 2010a, 2010b, 2016a, 2017b, and 2020b).

[25] This section on “neo-liberal economics” draws heavily on my previous work—see particularly Scipes (1984, 1999, 2006, 2009, 2016b: 3-10)—but has been supplemented by extensive additional readings, particularly by Brenner (2003), Cox (2012), Cox and Lee (2012), Cox and Bass (2012), Gibbs (2012), Harvey (2005), Piven (2006), Roman and Velasco Arregui (2013), and Skidmore-Hess (2012).  Additionally, as will be seen, I also include some research I did around 2013, and which was published in Scipes, 2021: 9-11, as well as some research included in Scipes (2017b).

[26] Please excuse my limiting of focus to the United States; there are parallel processes taking place in every country of the US Empire, including in the major imperial countries of Western Europe.  However, the case of the US is most clear, and it is the dominant country of the empire, so in an effort seeking maximum clarity, I limit my comments herein, while recognizing these processes extend far beyond this single example.

[27] What do I mean by “ideological construction”?  We have been taught that there are economic markets, where men (and more recently, women) can interact as equals, to buy and sell goods and services based on their own interests, and this is guided by “the invisible hand” of the marketplace.  First of all, especially at levels higher than the “mom and pop” corner grocery story, buyers and sellers are almost never equal; sellers overwhelmingly have greater power over buyers:  “if you don’t give me what I want, I ain’t selling.”  Perhaps the classic example of the one case where buyers have more power than sellers is the labor market; employers can hire whoever they want, as long as they do not obviously discriminate on certain social factors (“race,” gender, disability, sexual orientation, etc.).

Propagating this lie of equality, when it is not an accurate representation of social reality but is a myth, is intended to confuse if not flat out lie to people; i.e., it is intended to keep you under control of those of whom it is in their interest to lie.

Using the free market model also limits consideration to consumption of products—do you have the money or credit to purchase something or not?—and precludes consideration of effects of production on workers or the environment; i.e., it is a very narrow and restricted “model” of the economy.

I would argue that a more complete model, albeit with limitations, is that developed by Karl Marx (1873) and his political descendants.

[28] The CIA was created under the National Security Act of 1947 (see Santarsiero, 2022).  For extensive documentation of their operations over the years, see Blum, 1986, 2000, 2014, 2015.

[29] This section on income inequality in the United States, as well as a section further below, is taken directly from Scipes, 2009.  Unfortunately, this does not address racial or gender-based stratification within US society, which is well-established; for an analysis of how these factors effect health in this country, see Barr (2019).

As will be seen in Figure 1, below, this will be seen so positively because of the massive improvement in people’s real incomes between 1947 and 1973, and that this income growth was fairly evenly distributed to all quintiles within the social order.  Thus, as exemplified by this period, there was a real material basis to the ideal of “the American dream” and that it was achievable by all.

However, the “assumption” that this material improvement continued after about 1973, will be challenged by data below.  As will be seen, “the American dream” lost a lot of its material base and has become a hollow ideological “talking point” for increasing numbers of Americans.

[30] A moment of explanation to help you understand what you are looking at.  To judge economic inequality within a society, sociologists (and some economists) will gather as complete a set of economic data as possible, based on income and/or wealth, organized by family or individual, and present it from smallest amount to the largest.  Income data is easier to get, so it is usually presented, as is done here.  Then the income amounts will be divided into quintiles or fifths, and these are organized from the lowest quintile to the highest.  Then, when measuring, they will put the dollar number for the highest amount (the top) of income/wealth in the quintile, as so you can compare them over time, to see where income distribution is growing or falling.

[31]  The US government does not want us to understand how much income is being garnered by the top five percent (5%) of the population, so their data for the fifth (and highest) quintile stops at 95 percent; the number is for the person at the 95th percentile.  This is different from how they present data for the tops of the other quintiles.  Nonetheless, since they do this consistently, it is comparative with other years despite the obvious limitation.

[32] He cites Prechel (1997: 414), writing “… as reflected in a dramatic fall in the rate of profit during this period for the top 500 industrial firms from 7.7 percent from 1973 to 1981 to 4.8 percent from 1982 to 1986…” (Cox, 2012: 18).

[33]  One statement in Cox’ statement deserves attention:  he refers to the rising industrial nations of Asia.  According to Scipes, “First, clearly, this development started with and/or benefited from the US’ Cold War against ‘communism,’ and later he argues, “this economic development was designed to establish or re-establish capitalist hegemony in the various countries and US imperial hegemony in the region …” (Scipes, 2020c: 1216).  The irony is that by providing “investment sites” to transnational corporations, this provided more possible sites to which US corporations could relocate from the US.

[34] As documented numerous times by several authors in Cox, ed. (2012), the Business Roundtable has been a major operative advancing the interests of the largest US-based transnational corporations and particularly in advancing their interests in the highest echelons of US government circles and has been quite successful in its efforts.

[35] See the discussion of their operations against the labor movement in Cox and Bass (2012).

[36]  The point that the US economy is central to the well-being of the United States Empire has not been made, at least publicly; US officials refuse to describe its empire as such.  However, an empire is dependent upon or have access to a vibrant and expanding home-country economy.

For one example of this, see Knickmeyer, Bussewitz, Flesher, Brown, and Casey, 2020.

[37] What she last referred to is the selling of public entities—such as water treatment and provision systems, electrical generating capacity, school systems as well as individual schools, transportation projects (commuter rail systems, highways, bridges), etc.—to private corporations, replacing public control with that by corporate managements; to put it another way, shifting these projects from serving common interests to becoming private, profit-making schemes.  These processes are generally known as “privatization.”

[38] In a powerful analysis, Cox (2012: 16-30) details the process by which leading US corporations acted upon the Reagan and subsequent presidential administrations of both political parties, and got them to shape US foreign political economic policy to benefit these corporations, at the direct expense of workers in this country.  It is a detailed analysis that deserves serious consideration, which it does not appear to have garnered to date.

[39]  According to Macrotrends (2023), but added by this author, total US military spending from 1982 (first budgetary year of the Reagan Administration) to end of Donald Trump’s administration in 2021: $18,215.91 billion or $18.216 trillion.  (This is before Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.)

Further, we can compare US military spending in 2021 with that of 10 of our “allies”:  US-$800.67 billion; UK-$68.37 billion; France-$56.65 billion; Germany-$56.02 billion; Saudi Arabia-$55.56 billion; Japan-$54.12 billion; South Korea-$50.23 billion; Italy-$32.01 billion; Australia-$31.75 billion; Canada-$26.45 billion; and Israel-$24.34 billion.  (Macrotrends, 2023).  In other words, in 2021, the US spent $800.67 billion, where our 10 allies combined spent $455.5 billion.

This is an important point that has not been sufficiently understood by progressives in the United States:  the US has an empire, and its dynamic is different than that of the United States as a country, but the economic and political elites do not want us to understand this differentiation:  they want us to think that projection of the empire, as it tries to dominate the rest of the world, is actually defense of the country.  How wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan—plus various US “global” commands in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and East Asia, and all of their related operations everywhere else in the world —have anything to do with “defending” the United States is beyond human comprehension; its mythmakers make those pushing religious dogmas look like pikers.

Differentiating between the empire and the country is absolutely essential to disaggregating American “nationalism.”  Also, money spent on the empire is money that cannot be spent on education, health care, ending inequities in our society, strengthening our infrastructure, and/or addressing climate change and environmental destruction, all projects designed to help Americans and other good people around the world.

[40] One of the great myths of American life—propagated heavily by business, government, and the mainstream media—is that as productivity increases, our standard of living automatically rises. This “suggests” that business “takes care” of its workers economically by periodically enhancing workers’ pay.

The reality is that it has been the trades unions, through negotiations and through striking, that have forced business to raise wages and extend social benefits. And even non-union workplaces have generally raised wages/benefits to comparable levels, as part of their campaign to keep their workers from unionizing. In short, and following Jack Metzgar (2000), the “working middle class”—which includes members of the of skilled trades, unionized industrial workers, and later, public sector workers—was created by the labor movement, and they joined the traditional “middle class” occupations like lawyers, doctors, insurance agents, etc., to create the “great American middle class.”  The “working middle class” was not created by the mythical “benign” efforts of business, but by the determined efforts of millions of workers joined together in the US labor movement.

The attacks on the unions since 1981, as I show below, have devastated the economic well-being of tens of millions of Americans, which in turn has led to much of the social turmoil inside the United States.

[41] Again, see Cox (2012: 16-30) where he details the transformation of the US economy from our traditional model to global supply chains.  “The US state was an especially important conduit in providing the political, legal, and organizational opportunities for US-based transnational firms to restructure their operations during the 1980s” (Cox, 2012: 25).

For an in-depth examination of the Apple Corporation, which is one of the most developed US-based transnational firms, and how this has affected workers in China, see Chan, Selden, and Ngai (2020).

[42] This makes it appear that Reagan tripled the National Debt, but you have to subtract the amount he inherited, so the actual increase was a doubling.

[43] Every year, the Federal government establishes a budget, saying it plans for certain programs and the costs to finance them, and then it will pay for them out of tax receipts. After the end of the budgetary year—which currently ends on September 30—the government will report that “we overspent our budget” (reporting a deficit) or “we brought our budget in lower than expected” (reporting a surplus). Then that year’s results (surplus or deficit) is added to that of every other year, going back to 1789, when the US became an independent country, and that cumulative total of surplus/deficits is known as the “national debt.”

Understand that between 1789, when the US became an independent country and 1981, the end of Jimmy Carter’s administration, the US national debt was $ 909 billion, or $ .9 trillion.  This included paying for the War of 1812; the Civil War; the war against Native peoples on the Plains; the Spanish-American War (including the US-Philippine War); World War I; World War II; wars in Korea and Vietnam; as well as the Tennessee Valley Authority (that brought electrification to the US South), the Interstate Highway System, and the space program to that date, plus any other Federal spending; this covered 192 years.  In just a little over 40 years, from when Reagan entered the White House, the National Debt grew $30 trillion under both Republicans and Democrats.  Today, as stated, the national debt exceeds $31 trillion (Rappeport and Tankersley, 2022).

On February 15, 2023, the New York Times published an article stating that recent report by the US Congressional Budget Office estimated that the US National Debt would increase by $19 trillion by 2033 (Tankersley and Rappeport, 2023).

That is what happens when you indulge in massive military spending for the US Empire, and you reduce taxation on the corporations and the rich.

[44] At the end of the third quarter of 2022 (September 30, 2022), the US Gross National Product (GNP) was listed at $25.89 trillion (Y Charts.com); yet the National Debt was listed within a few days of that as being over $31 trillion (Rappeport and Tankersley, 2022).  This means the National Debt is approximately 119.7 percent of GNP.  In other words, even if every person in this country was willing to work for free for an entire year, we still could not eradicate the National Debt.

At the end of 1980—Reagan had been elected in November and took office within about 20 days—the National Debt was $ .909 trillion, and the GNP (on December 31, 1980) was $2.768 trillion (Y Charts, 2023), so the National Debt at that time was approximately 32.5 percent of GNP.

[45] A keyway this has been done is through mythologizing history: a perfect counterexample is provided by the film, “Sir, No Sir!” (Zieger, 2005). Despite herculean efforts to “put the [Vietnam] war behind us” by the US government, David Zieger brilliantly reports the existence of an anti-war movement within the US military, and its impact on the US military’s ability to fight the war. (This anti-war movement inside the US military, in which I participated, has generally been “lost” to US history; for efforts to ensure it does not get lost, see Cortwright, 1975; Moser, 1996; Short and Seidenberg, 1992; and Stacewicz, 1997; for an analysis of the war on working people, see Lewis, 2012.)  Comparing Zieger’s film to the “history” of the war, as is generally reported, shows how much the “real history” has been mythologized. Nick Turse’s (2013) book on Vietnam, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, also demonstrates the mythology of the war that has been propagated by the US government, and then destroys it by use of official US Army records.

[46] Michael Moore’s 1989 film, Roger and Me, and his 2009 film, Capitalism:  A Love Story, are the only examples of which I know that question neo-liberal economics and that reached a wide public audience during this period, although Moore did not use this term.  For an evaluation of Moore’s films, see Bridie, 2022.

[47] I cannot indicate how painful it is for me to write these words; Nixon, to many of my generation, was the epitome of evil.  It shows how far backwards this country has traveled, under both Democrats and Republicans.

Nixon didn’t pass these progressive laws, especially around the environment and health and safety laws for workers because he believed in them, but to undercut the progressive movement (including the anti-Vietnam War movement) that had forced him to address these issues in this manner.

For an excellent analysis of the Obama Administration’s politics, see Daniel Skidmore-Hess (2012).

[48]  The US government does not want us to understand how much income is being garnered by the top five percent (5%) of the population, so their data for the fifth (and highest) quintile stops at 95 percent; nonetheless, since they do this consistently, it is comparative with other years despite the obvious limitation.

[49]  Robert E. Scott reports that approximately 3.2 million jobs lost “is the net cost of growing US trade deficits with China between 2001 and 2013” (Scott, 2014: 2).

For a detailed look at how transnational capital was able to get China incorporated into their global supply lines, and the impact on the global economy, as well as effects on Chinese workers, see Cox and Lee, 2012.  For a look at Apple’s (and Foxconn’s) operations in China, see Chan, Selden, and Ngai, 2020.  And for a look at how the AFL-CIO leadership was attacking the Chinese government for decisions made by transnational corporate leadership and the US government, see Scipes, 2006.

[50] Things have gotten considerably worse since this section was published in 2009.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2022, only 10.1 percent of the total workforce was unionized, and 6.0 percent of the private sector. (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2023.)

[51] I been writing extensively on AFL-CIO foreign policy over the years; most importantly has been Scipes (2010a), with an update, and extensive review of the literature in Scipes (2022b).  For another excellent article on AFL-CIO foreign policy, see Cox and Bass (2012).

This failure of AFL-CIO leadership was detailed in Scipes, 2017b, and followed by Scipes, 2020a.  There is a massive literature on this by many different authors, and the single best source to date (which needs updating!) is my’ “Current Labor Issues” Bibliography, available on-line at https://www.pnw.edu/faculty/kim-scipes-ph-d/publications/contemporary-labor-issues-bibliography/.

[52] Dollar values, given for the top income of the respective quintiles (in first column) are from 2005, as shown in Figure 5, below.

[53]  Source: http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/histinc/f04.html:  no longer available.

[54] The US CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) produces economic data on a large number of countries, although not all, and publishes on-line on the “CIA Factbook.”  On February 12, 2023, I went there to get their latest comparative GINI “scores.”  It seems the CIA is getting lazy, as all they provided at this time were estimates instead of current calculations.  Nonetheless, they listed the countries from greatest inequality to least, and numbered them from 1 (greatest) to 176 (least), excluding the improbably low score for the Island of Jersey.  (The CIA reports these values differently than usual, as full numbers; I put them into the thousandths style to maintain consistency.)

They rated the US as 50th most economically stratified (unequal) country at .414 in 2016.  (This make no sense to me, as they rated the US at .450 in 2004, and things got considerably worse during the Great Recession, but that is the score they report.)

While I did not do the categories like I did in 2009, I noted the ranking number and the estimated score of a number of poor countries; remember, if they were between numbers 1-49, their income inequality was worse than that of the US, while 51-176 was less than that of the US:  Mozambique was #7 in 2014 at .540; Uganda was #38 in 2016 at .428; so they were both more unequal, while Laos was #65 in 2018 at .388; Cambodia was #73 in 2008 with .379; Vietnam was #96 in 2018 at .357; and Bangladesh was #134 in 2016 with .324, meaning these four poor countries were less unequal than the US.

[55] Again, see Cox, 2012: 16-30:  this did not “just happen,” but was the product of a very comprehensive and successful campaign to transform the US economy that specifically targeted the various presidential administrations and got them to make it possible for this transformation to take place.

[56]  This section was directly taken from Scipes, 2021: 9-11.

[57] According to the National Center on Poverty, “Research suggests that, on average, families need an income equal to about two times the Federal poverty level to meet their basic needs.  Families with income levels below this income level are referred to as low income:  $44,000 for a family of four (emphasis added) (Chau, Thampi, and Wight, 2010: 21).  The official poverty threshold is set by the Federal government, and for the year 2013, it was $23,550 (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2013).

In fact, if we utilized a realistic threshold for the poverty rate—and not the terribly inadequate amount provided by the US government—then in 2012, 34.3 percent of all Americans (over one-third) would have been below the realistic poverty line that is 200 percent of the official poverty line (see DeNavas-Walt, Proctor, and Smith, 2012: 17).

[58] What must be kept in mind, despite media depictions to the contrary, is that approximately two-thirds of all people in poverty in the United States at any time are white, despite whites having a lower poverty rate.

[59]  In early 2020, President Trump has been bragging about the good shape of the economy.  Yet, “Fifty million people in the United States live in poverty, with little hope for themselves or their children,” according to the international NGO, Oxfam (2020).  The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported, “In 2018, the overall unemployment rate (jobless rate) for the United States was 3.9 percent; however, the rate varied across race and ethnicity groups.  Among the racial groups, jobless rates were higher than the national rate for American Indians and Alaska Natives (6.6 percent), Blacks or African Americans (6.5 percent), people categorized as being Two or More Races (5.5 percent), and Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders (5.3 percent).  Jobless rates were lower than the national rate for Asians (3.0 percent), and Whites (3.5 percent).  The rate for people of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, at 4.7 percent, was higher than the rate of 3.7 percent for non-Hispanics” (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019).  The overall unemployment rate in January 2020 was reported at 3.6 percent.  However, the U-6 unemployment rate—said to be the more accurate account, and which includes “discouraged workers”—was 7.7 percent (McMahon, 2020).

In any case, these low unemployment rates are arguably the result the Federal government running a growing deficit, projected to cross $1 trillion in fiscal year 2020 under President Trump, with the national debt presently exceeding $22 trillion (see Emma, 2020).  I am arguing, therefore, that the low unemployment rate is more the product of deficit spending (writing “hot” checks) than is the product of solid economic growth.

[60] I experienced this first-hand while working on printing presses in a non-union print shop in rural Kentucky that I was trying to unionize in 1982. The company bought a new web press that reduced the number of workers in a crew from five to three, while producing less waste while starting up and providing higher quality printing, which was needed because some of our top-end printing was for the diamond industry. At that time, I was making $4.85 an hour with minimal benefits—the owner was complaining I was overpaid—and I worked 40 hours a week; a comparable union job at that time in San Francisco Bay Area (from where I had moved) paid over $20 an hour, with a 35-hour workweek (and time and a half over seven hours in a day, as well as for Saturdays, with double-time on Sundays.).

The point being that this technological upgrading and related unemployment was also taking place in low-wage areas such as rural Kentucky; it was not limited to just high-wage areas.

[61] Glenn Perusek (2017), in his analysis of what happened during the 2016 presidential election—with a specific focus on the industrial Midwest—and suggestions for ways forward, presents data from the US Bureau of Labor, noting that “as late as 2000, there were still more than17 million manufacturing jobs in the United States.  Both before and after the Great Recession (2007-2009), these jobs disappeared at an astonishing rate: 30 percent of manufacturing jobs have been lost since 2000.”

[62] And now, as reported in the New York Times, even the retail jobs that provided some measure of work for those who lost factory jobs—albeit, at much lower rates of pay—are now being destroyed by e-commerce; see Abrams and Gebeloff, 2017.

[63] It should be obvious that I have not focused on climate change and environmental destruction in this article.  I would encourage those who are interested to look at my articles on these issues (Scipes, 2017a, 2022, 2023); also see my relatively new website at https://www.pnw.edu/faculty/kim-scipes-ph-d/publications/climate-change-publication/, where I am compiling articles, books, and other resources on these issues.  I will incorporate these issues in the manuscript I am currently preparing.

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