Norma Rae is the title of a 1970’s movie based upon the life of Crystal Lee Sutton, a North Carolina textile mill worker who attempted to organize mill workers in North Carolina. Her fight against poor pay and working conditions she experienced was the subject of a NY Times story and later a movie in which Sally Field portrayed Ms. Sutton, using the character title of “Norma Rae.” Like the real Norma Rae, since 1980, millions have been fired as elites shipped their jobs overseas, convinced that what they produced wasn’t worth making in America.
For forty years, factory workers by the millions have witnessed their “head of household jobs” deemed obsolete by the political class as manufacturing jobs disappeared like water down a drain. Since the time “Norma Rae” was released, over 75% of American manufacturing jobs disappeared to take advantage of cheap, overseas labor. Also disappearing was American pride and the quality products we were once known to produce.
We can take a look back at the 70’s and maybe get a hint at why Americans are now so angry at the “Establishment.” The 70’s produced inflation rates exceeding 15%, interest rates over 21% and official unemployment held steady at 10% plus. Overseas, Americans were abused and humiliated by revolutionaries and terrorists as our leadership did little to nothing. Our military was driven from Vietnam, abandoned and abused by the political class which then absolved themselves of any responsibility. Our embassies and flags burned while Americans could only watch the nightly news. Sound familiar? You’d think the political class would learn that Americans don’t like to kneel before anyone, let alone apologize for being Americans. President Obama and “wannabes” take note: Americans love America!
In the 1970’s we didn’t owe $20 Trillion in debt; it took the first 222 years to accrue the first $5 Trillion in debt. President Bush doubled it and Obama doubled it again. This is coupled with a flat economy where for the first time since 1932, Americans are confronted by fear that their children have little hope of enjoying a better life than they experienced. It’s not unusual for a hard-science degree college graduate to face extended unemployment after graduation and then take a job not much better than they had before college.
America’s “Main Street” is also collapsing as we watch. The empty storefronts in Atascadero are not unusual in Middle America. I remember talking with the owner of the long-abandoned Hallmark store as she closed up and left town. Hallmark Corporation began to distribute their holiday cards to discount retailers. Combined with internet sales, “E-cards” and a change in consumer taste resulting in fewer cards sent, the Hallmark Corporation essentially killed the ability of brick and mortar storefronts to compete. The local franchise owner went out of business and moved on. The store space has been abandoned for over three years except for temporary, non-retail lease holders. Today, dozens of major retail chains are experiencing similar pressures and are closing stores. Included in this economic death spiral for small town “Main Streets” are Macy’s, Target, Wal-Mart, Nordstrom, Staples, K-Mart, Office Depot, Sears, Kohls, J.C. Penney’s and Best Buy. The list is growing with many other major retailers shuttering stores, leaving long-term employees and local economies in the cold.
Part of the problem is our national tax rate on businesses, which at the federal rate is the highest in the world. Government regulators seem to delight in crippling small businesses, stifle initiative and harshly punish with heavy fines the most trivial infraction. As a result, businesses are failing and corporations flee America faster than the political class can devise methods to liberate businesses from their profits. The result is lost American jobs and hope for the future. American real income has dropped over $5000 annually since 2008 and remains flat. Over half the country now makes less than $30,000 a year and most can’t handle a $500 repair bill without busting their budget and still, the political class can’t figure out why Americans are so angry?!
The political class is grossly out of touch with the plight of ordinary people which, combined with feckless leadership frustrates millions. Some are choosing the siren song of socialism which has never improved the lives of people anywhere. It creates enormous and ultimately oppressive government, permanently obstructs economic mobility but guarantees shortages of toilet paper (See Venezuela). Venezuela’s once thriving middle class is experiencing economic collapse with massive shortages of every essential. Store shelves are empty, farms are confiscated by government thugs and food, what little exists, is now heavily rationed. Yet its socialist leadership refuses to admit error while doubling down on failed policies.
America is in trouble and Americans are angry. Politicians ignore this anger at their peril.
By Al Fonzi, RPSLO Chairman (first published in Atascadero News, 4 March 2016)