History repeats itself. I think this is why so many people are fascinated by the PBS series Downton Abbey. 100 years ago the hot technologies were electricity, the telephone, and the motor car. British noblemen with titles married American heiresses to shore up the financial foundations of their estates.
When the Titanic sank in 1912, it took with it a way of life that is very much like today’s world: the 1% with the wealth dance while being totally oblivious to the suffering of the other 99% who are struggling to survive on less than a living wage.
Occupy Wall Street is Downton Abbey revisited. After the Titanic sank, the downstairs help staged a silent revolution. The maids learned how to type and became Gibson girls and suffragettes who won the right to vote and the right to control their fortunes and bodies. Footmen found opportunities in factories. Valets worked in commerce. Butlers managed businesses. They formed unions to demand a fair wage and fringe benefits. It was the birth of the middle class and the American dream.
This didn’t make the robber barons happy. They didn’t like paying taxes and fair wages. They wanted their opulent, hedonistic, privileged lifestyle back. To this end, they seized control of the elements required for a successful revolution: the banks, the printing presses, and the universities. They lobbied for laws that would legalize bribery (PACs) and corruption and gutted funding for agencies which were set up to keep them honest.
They merged the banks until they were too big to fail and stuck Main Street with the tab when they did. Meanwhile, they gradually eroded the compensation packages of employees and shipped living wage jobs overseas under the guise of “productivity improvement.” The cost of medical care was transferred to employees under the ruse of “health care cost containment.” ERISA laws were intended to protect pension plans, but employers ditched them in favor of employee-funded 401k plans which allowed Wall Street to siphon off an employee’s retirement nest egg. CEO “pay for performance” skyrocketed despite the fact that they were screwing shareholders, employees, and customers.
The robber barons also bought up the networks and major newspapers. They stopped funding investigative journalism and filled the media with info-tainment. They controlled the message and manipulated people into voting against their best interests. People were conned into believing they could leverage credit to hang onto their American dreams. We were intentionally lulled into a sense of impotent apathy.
People who held onto the American dream leveraged their futures to get a good education. These young people are graduating with a mountain of debt which they can’t pay off because they can’t get a job. Their less ambitious peers know more about Kim Kardashian than they do about the U.S. Constitution. These folks never learned how to think critically or challenge authority figures in a meaningful way.
Now, we’re all back downstairs serving the robber barons who celebrate Pres. Ronald Reagan because he made it acceptable to say out loud, “fuck you, I got mine.” The wizard behind the curtain was Donald Rumsfeld.
We can accept this fate , or we can do what our ancestors did. We can leverage our talents and exercise our right to vote.