The big grab is on
If you’re middle class or poor, the bankers and politicians want your money. First, the Republicans have declared war on the poor by slashing the food-stamp program that provides a bare minimum of daily nutrition. Second, the bankers want federal, state and local government pension plans to cut workers’ benefits, then give their retirement nest eggs to the banks to manage for huge profits.
Now we need to acknowledge that even though there’s a sense of emergency, now that blacks and browns are gaining in the U.S. demographic race, people have been grabbing up resources and money since our nation was founded. Early settlers in colonies like Jamestown and Plymouth were looking to “strike it rich.” They wanted gold; and they’d sell their neighbors to the natives to get it.
Later, in the gold rush, the building of railroads, the growth of industries like oil and steel, there was always a frantic rush to see who could get the most and best for themselves.
One of the main themes of the ever-elusive American Dream has been that anybody can get rich in America if they work hard enough. And that provides cover for today’s Big Grab. Many of us won’t get upset about it because we may want to do some grabbing ourselves one day.
Opportunity is one thing, but the Big Grab today is about a few of us robbing the rest of us. It’s about getting it all before the country changes politically, because it is changing demographically and environmentally. The wealthy are determined to become richer now, by plundering what people already have.
Take food stamps, for example. For decades, we’ve had in place in this country a program that combines agricultural subsidies for farmers with the provision of food stamps that could keep low-income Americans from starving. Politically, this met the needs of conservatives and liberals, while also meeting the economic needs of farmers and the nutritional needs of our poorer families.
But conservatives and Tea Party radicals are mounting an assault on the food stamp program with a series of votes that will throw some 3.8 million low-income Americans off the food-stamp program this year. Unless people meet new, rigid requirements, they will not be able to receive this life-giving benefit.
What are they doing with the money saved by separating the poor from their nutrition? They’re giving it to state governments to use for whatever purposes they need it. This gives many of the cash-strapped Republican-controlled states plenty of motivation to join the Big Grab by cutting state support programs for the poor even further. States win, the poor lose.
Equally offensive is the movement by the nation’s financial institutions to roll back public-employee and corporate retirement benefits. Pension managers are prompted to say these cuts have to do with “saving the taxpayers money.” In reality they turn their pension funds over to Wall Street profiteers to manage these funds by making riskier investments (hedge funds, e.g.) for greatly increased management fees.
A recent analysis of Rhode Island’s pension system by SEC investigator Edward Siedle shows that pension investment expenses rose 700 percent from $11 million to $70 million in fees paid to Wall Street hedge funds. Workers receive fewer dollars in pension benefits, and those dollars flow directly to hedge fund managers on Wall Street.
This is called “pension reform,” but it really forges a pipeline from employee nest eggs directly into the bankers’ vaults. Banks win now, workers lose in retirement.
The irony of it is that pension funds should be managed very conservatively; certainly not as part of some wildly speculative hedge fund. And, in the case of Rhode Island’s pension fund, the returns of those hedge funds were drastically reduced in the years just prior to their receiving management privileges from that state’s pension director. They could have earned better returns by simply investing in an index fund.
These are just two examples among many of how a few privileged elites are robbing the rest of us in the Big Grab for wealth and resources.