Thursday, January 18, 2018

America: Who Stole the Dream?

          We’ve had miserable weather the past few weeks. I’m not going to complain because I knew what Kansas City weather was like when I moved back here from California way back when. Since it was icy and cold I took the opportunity to go through the books I’d picked up at estate sales last year and decide which ones I really will read and which ones would go to Half Price Books. That’s how I came to read America: Who Stole the Dream, by Donald L. Bartlett and James B. Steele.
          These guys must feel like modern-day Cassandras. The book was published in 1996 (during the Clinton years), and it could be read as a list of reasons people got fed up enough to elect Donald Trump twenty years later.
          It’s all there and more. America separating into the have-mores and the have-lesses, companies sending jobs abroad with the government’s blessing and in some cases assistance (again, this was during the Clinton Administration), massive abuses of the H-1B visa program (we’ll talk more about that later), lobbying abuses, the “retraining” scam (the main beneficiaries of these programs, it turns out, are the contractors, schools, and people employed to administer the programs, which offer little benefit to those being retrained for jobs that aren’t there), etc.
          I found the discussion of the H-1B visa abuses particularly interesting. Messrs. Bartlett and Steele give some rather egregious examples from 1996 including Hillary Clinton’s hairstylist getting one for a stylist (for $5.25 an hour), Pat Buchanan’s sister got one to hire an au par for $13.54 per hour, Richard Nixon’s former attorney was granted one to hire a housekeeper, and the list goes on. In each of these cases the visa was granted because there supposedly were no American workers qualified to do the jobs. No Americans qualified to style hair? To babysit? To clean house?
          Recently, more than twenty years later, H-1B visas have come under more scrutiny. In February of last year the New York Times reported on H-1B visas’ being used to cut labor costs in the tech industry. One example given was the University of California, San Francisco importing foreign nationals and paying them $65,000 a year to do the jobs of people who, after training their replacements, would lose their jobs, which had paid $130,000. Obviously, the argument that there were no Americans qualified to do these jobs falls apart upon examination.
          Who can blame people for being upset? Electing Donald Trump may seem like a drastic measure, but you can see that people who feel like they’re being shafted might be willing to do something drastic when the status quo seems lined up against them and unwilling to change. After all, isn’t that how the American Revolution started? There’s a precedent.
          When I read books about what’s wrong with the system I always want to hear the authors’ solutions. Unfortunately, this is where the book fails. It suggests steps the government can take. After 200 pages of documenting how government, as Ronald Reagan used to say, is the problem, the authors seem to believe the government will have a “road to Damascus” experience.
          I’d suggest we not rely on a suddenly benevolent government and start taking our fates into our own hands.
          In 2005 I wrote Political Frugality to provide a roadmap for an economic approach to protesting marriage inequality. We’ve won that one. Let’s use those same tactics to protest economic inequality.

© 2018 Larry Roth

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