Guest Commentary

February 24th, 2011 |


by John Hicks


Where are the demonstrations?


Nicholas D. Kristof talked about “What Egypt Can Teach America” (New York Times, Feb. 13). The silly goose kept talking about the Middle East and how we need to do four things better than we have in the past. I’m sure there must be about 96 others — not mentioned.

He wonders which country is going to be the next Egypt and mentions Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Syria, Saudi Arabia and even Cuba and China. Quote: “We know that in many places there is a deep-seated discontent and a profound yearning for greater political participation.”

This leads me to wonder why he did not mention the United States. We have 43.6 million people in poverty (2009), about 14 percent of the population. We have 15 million children in poverty, one in four. We have thousands, even millions, of children who are hungry, many of whom have no place to sleep. Contrasting those figures, 8 percent of the population makes more than $100,000 per year, and that 8 percent represents 50 percent of all income earned in the U.S. There is a record number of people paying no income tax — more than 50 million, including families making more than $50,000 a year (25 percent of the population).

Let’s face facts. More money going to the top 8 percent of our citizens and less for everyone else is no reason for demonstrations. Shipping factories and thousands of jobs overseas are no reasons for demonstrations. Parts being imported from other countries used to make products in this country has risen to more than 25 percent from 17 percent in 1997, but that certainly is no reason why we should be demonstrating. Louis Uchitelle (New York Times, Feb. 13) cited the following. “The loss of manufacturing capacity, measured in lost workers, is startling. From the high point in the summer of 1979, through last month, employment in manufacturing has fallen by 8.1 million, to 11.6 million, with most of the drop in just the last decade. While consumers have benefited from lower prices, made possible by unrestricted imports, on the other side of the ledger are tens of billions of dollars in lost manufacturing wages.” I mention this as a major reason for demonstrations; Uchitelle did not.

Almost all states do not have enough money to keep social programs alive, including education. The fact that our children are falling behind each year in the knowledge race compared to many other countries is no reason for demonstrations. We’re cutting back on academic programs at the higher education levels as well as the public schools. We’re eliminating firemen/women, policemen/women and all kinds of social workers. We continue to have greater numbers of people who have lost their homes, certainly no reason for demonstrating. Demonstrations are not likely just because we have millions without health care.

Of course we don’t have demonstrations. Our middle class would never stand for it. We have middle class types buying new cars, selecting what wine to go with what cheese, going ga-ga over ga-ga, going ga-ga over a football game, going south for the winter, boarding cruise ships, spending money at casinos, increasing their eating-out strategies, spending more money on entertainment... you name it.

Besides, we have too much diversity in this country for demonstrations. We have poor people voting Republican. We have poor people who love rich people but rich people could care less about poor people. Poor people keep getting poorer while rich people keep getting richer — no reason for demonstrations. And the middle class? They could care less as long as they are doing “their thing.” No way are we going to see demonstrations in this country.

But wait a minute. Did you hear about the demonstration in Madison, Wisc.? I’d say that is a good start. Thousands were rallying to support the unions (firefighters, teachers, prison workers, garbage haulers, street plowers, all of ’em, plus seven members of the Green Bay Packers). Teachers and workers of all kinds standing up to a governor who wants to ruin their lives sounds like a winning combination. It’s about time. We need more, lots more! Where have the demonstrations been all these years? Forget about Algeria and Syria. We better start thinking about the United States. CEOs of corporations are not. Never! When the economy collapses again, they will get their families aboard their jets and fly off to the Caribbean for some sunshine. If I’m still around, it will be fun watching the middle class eating their last cheese bite and drinking their last glass of wine.

Where are the demonstrations? CV

John Hicks is resident of Des Moines and a professor emeritus at Drake University.