In the lead letter of Sunday’s August 31st Florida Times-Union editorial page, Mark Wilson, the CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce claims the American Dream is under attack by labor unions, those who seek an increase in the minimum wage, and those concerned with rising income inequality.
These comments represent an inaccurate analysis of the sources of economic hardship and deprivation facing the majority of working Americans. First of all, it should be clear from economic trends in the United States since the 1980s that the American Dream has been dead for quite some time.
The American Dream – that hard work will result in upward mobility and a comfortable middle-class lifestyle – has, in fact, been under steady attack as a result of the very policies he and his organization champion. These are the deregulation of business, declining union representation for workers, no increase in the minimum wage, tax cuts for the rich, and cuts in public spending that could be used to assist low income workers. These are the political-economic policies that have been advanced over this period, with enthusiastic corporate support, and that have contributed to the rise in inequality, stagnant incomes and salaries, increasing poverty, and redistribution of income from the bottom and middle to the top.
But rather than recognize the demonstrated abject failure of these policies for improving the life of American workers, Mr. Wilson blames emerging policy proposals that would actually reverse these long-term trends. Union representation is associated with better working conditions for employees, higher levels of compensation, and workplace democracy; a higher minimum wage would lift a large portion of the working population in Florida out of the ranks of poverty; and a more equitable and progressive tax system would provide greater government revenue to support the education, training, affordable housing, and public transportation needed for economic success.
What Wilson and the Chamber are actually engaging in is a preemptive strike on those policies which are supported by most workers but which may inevitably impose costs on business. Remember that the Chamber is an organization designed to represent the interests of private businesses and corporations. It should be obvious to members of this social class that the American public is unhappy with the current socio-economic state of affairs and is looking for some alternatives to the standard pro-business/free market/anti-government/anti-union ideology. Given this fact, it makes perfect sense that the Chamber would want to use the sacred American Dream narrative as the basis for opposing policies that are counter to their economic interests.
To propose more of the same policies with the expectation that they will produce different results is not only the definition of insanity, but also a cynical attempt to maintain a status quo that has failed American workers.
It is time to recognize that failure and consider some real alternatives.