In January, President Barack Obama appointed General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt to lead a new business advisory board charged with finding ways to encourage private sector job creation. This came two weeks after Obama tapped William Daley, a former executive at JP Morgan Chase, to be his new Chief of Staff. Makes sense, right? After all, Immelt chairs a corporation that is worth more than $750 billion while JP Morgan boasts total assets of over $2 trillion.
However, it is evident that these close (and often questionable) ties between corporations and government have become a fixture of our political landscape; a reality that should alarm middle-class Americans who are, as a result, being pushed out of the discussion.
This comes in the wake of a president who pledged to "keep on fighting for what matters to middle-class families,” then enlisted the service of corporate America to advise him on creating jobs and stabilizing the economy. Yet, many of these corporations – because of the real estate boom and bust – are responsible for the financial devastation and lack of jobs.
This concern increases in one Virginia county, where many middle-class Americans are fighting to stave off home foreclosures. An organization of religious congregations and non-profits called VOICE (Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement) is working with residents to ensure changes from people in power. These folks aren’t living in mansions beyond their means. One family of six, the Reeds, has lived in the same, modest house since 1994; they have never even missed a mortgage payment. But when Mr. Reed lost his job and the family’s income was slashed by 73 percent, they contacted Bank of America to modify their agreement. They were denied – because they never missed a payment.
The irony is when Bank of America was in trouble, like the Reeds, it received a $45 billion bailout, compliments of the taxpayers.
The list of those affected by foreclosure is long; there have been some 1 million foreclosures in this country since 2008, with some neighborhoods having foreclosure rates of 30 percent. In addition to Bank of America, culprits include Chase and GE’s subprime mortgage units. The same JP Morgan whose former executive serves as Obama’s Chief of Staff and the same GE CEO who has the ear of the president.
But before we make sweeping claims of corporate conniving, it should be noted that this isn’t new and it certainly isn’t limited to a single political party. In 2007, Hunt Oil Company, a Texas group with close ties to former President George W. Bush, completed a deal with the Kurdistan regional government that undermined American policy and the Iraqi central government. A Congressional committee determined that the State Department was well-aware of the negotiations, but did nothing to dissuade the agreement.
In light of the corporate-political relationship, it is important to ask, should ordinary Americans still fit into the discussion? Do all Americans deserve the right to be represented at the table of government? And is the middle-class worth preserving?
I think it is worth it. The middle-class represents the progress of our country, the belief that children can have a better life than those who came before them. Furthermore, it embodies the idea of social and political equality in which the common person has a voice that overrules that of aristocracy.
However, we no longer live up to that ideal in a world where corporate executives seem to move in and out of government like clockwork. Or when families lose their homes because they are denied by a bank’s convoluted bureaucracy.
But we cannot wait for government to correct itself; the burden falls upon those in decline. When government no longer represents the people, and instead becomes a puppet to the corporate economy, it is up to the middle-class to respond. In the spirit of our country’s rich history of social activism, and with groups like VOICE, middle-class Americans must speak out.
As renowned cultural critic Wendell Berry writes, “If the government does not propose to protect the lives, livelihoods, and freedoms of its people, then the people must think about protecting themselves.”
However, the middle-class mustn’t just think - it must act. The livelihood of the American middle-class is in jeopardy, and its influence threatened by the marriage of government to big-business. The moment is now. It must make history, before it is lost to history.
Photo Credits: BasicGov