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Chapter 15 Leveling the Playing Field

Thom Hartmann Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

You can’t be middle class if you earn the minimum wage in America today.

The American dream and the American reality have collided. In America we have always said that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can take care of yourself and your family. But the minimum wage is just $5.15 per hour. With a forty-hour work-week, that comes to a gross income of $9,888 per year. Nobody can support a family, own a home, buy health insurance, or retire decently on $9,888 per year!

What’s more, 30 million Americans—one in four U.S. workers—make less than $9 per hour, or just $17,280 a year. That’s not a living wage either.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s statistics for 2004 show the official poverty rate at 12.7 percent of the population, which put the number of people officially living in poverty in the United States at 37 million. For a family of four, the poverty threshold was listed as $19,307.1 If the head of that family of four were a single mother working full-time for the government-mandated minimum wage, she couldn’t even rise above the government’s own definition of poverty.

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CHAPTER 3 Banding Together for the Common Good

Thom Hartmann Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

A corporation has no rights except those given it by law. It can exercise no power except that conferred upon it by the people through legislation, and the people should be as free to withhold as to give, public interest and not private advantage being the end in view.

—William Jennings Bryan, address to the Ohio 1912 Constitutional Convention


For thousands of years, it was popular among philosophers, theologians, and social commentators to suggest that the first humans lived as disorganized, disheveled, terrified, cold, hungry, and brutal lone-wolf beasts. But both the anthropological and archeological records prove it a lie.

Even our cousins the apes live in organized societies, and evidence of cooperative and social living is as ancient as the oldest hominid remains. For four hundred thousand years or more, even before the origin of Homo sapiens, around the world we primates have made tools, art, and jewelry and organized ourselves into various social forms, ranging from families to clans to tribes. More recently, we’ve also organized ourselves as nations and empires.1

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Chapter 5 Medicare “Part E”—for Everybody

Thom Hartmann Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents. It is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community. It is a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods.”

—Lyndon Baines Johnson

THERE ARE TWO IMPORTANT REASONS FOR HAVING A STRONG SOcial safety net, one based in sound economic policy and the other in our common humanity. So it’s no surprise that the countries that have strong social safety nets tend to have resilient economies and a higher quality of life.

Ultimately, social safety nets are about managing risk and unforeseen contingencies. On the one hand, there are the risks that we want people to take, such as starting a new business. On the other hand, there are unforeseen events that are so severe—like becoming paralyzed in an accident—that no one person (unless incredibly wealthy) could handle the expenses associated with them. In both cases, by setting up a social safety net that distributes the costs of responding to them across the wide spectrum of society, we minimize both the societal cost and the individual suffering.

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Chapter 6 The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions and Threats to the First Amendment

Dan Sisson Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

There is in these States a faction, a numerous and desperate faction, resolved on the overthrow of the Federal Government; and the man who will not allow that there is danger to be apprehended, is either too great a fool to perceive it, or too great a coward to encounter it.

—Porcupine’s Gazette, 1799

BY MID-1798 THE FEDERALISTS AND JOHN ADAMS’S ADMINISTRAtion had reached the high-water mark of their popularity. Bathed in the glow of the XYZ Affair and the enthusiastic support that incident created, the Hamiltonians and the supporters of John Adams combined to pursue a plan that, considered in its entirety, appeared threatening to anyone who opposed a consolidation of power in the national government.

A navy department had been established, the army had been expanded, a direct tax law had been passed, Hamilton was appointed inspector general of the United States Army, government loans to support the military were announced, and finally, the Naturalization Act of 1798 and the Alien Act were passed, so it was thought, to intimidate the most vocal opponents of the administration.

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CHAPTER 18 Unequal Citizenship and Access to the Commons

Thom Hartmann Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

fas-cism (fâsh’iz’em) n. A system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with belligerent nationalism. [Ital. fascio, group.] -fas’cist n. -fas-cis’tic (fa-shis’tik) adj.

American Heritage Dictionary, 1983

THERE ARE RESOURCES AND THERE ARE RESOURCES. FOR CORPORATIONS, resources include raw materials, labor, the property and the equipment they use, the talents of the people they employ, and cash. For humans, resources include air, water, food, shelter, clothing, health care, and the means of exchange to ensure these.

I remember growing up fifty-plus years ago in an America where an employer’s responsibilities to their community were so well understood that bosses who laid off people were considered either evil or failures. There was a dramatic recalibration of this during the 1980s, as the word layoff was replaced with the more politically tolerable euphemism downsizing and then further euphemized to rightsizing. In England the same event is described much more directly: “I was made redundant.”

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