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The Economic War Among the States: Letters

Incentives, one of many social problems
"The Economic War Between the States" project and the people putting it forward deserve applause. The topic is overdue for discussion, the use of the Internet is excellent (unlike the recently pased Telecommunications Act which discourages this kind of innovation), and the 25 students in the actual class are probably in for the time of their life. But I am very concerned as to whether this project will lead to a true national discussion or, instead, evolve like the discussion of health care (dominated by Harry and Louise commercials paid for by the health insurance industry) and the discussion of NAFTA and GATT, both ending with little improvement in the lives of real people.

--On recent visits to Washington, DC, I am stunned by the contrast between areas of town that look like they've been bombed and high rise offices that house lobbyists. This is the capital of the free world, and it doesn't look good. 435 members of congress have well-paid staffs, and they can't do anything about the disparities in their own backyard. And, what's more, DC is not unique among large American cities.

--Special corporate interests now donate $7 to political campaigns for every $1 from a regular person. 60% of campaign funds come from those high rises along the Beltway in Washington, DC.

--People are losing jobs, incomes, homes, networks of families and friends. Time for families and values are preached by politicians, while real people are trying to hold their families together with 2 or 3 jobs replacing the good-paying job they used to have.

--Greenspan and others say "the economy" is doing quite well. The nicest thing I can say is that there are a lot of people that might differ with that conclusion.

--We are the only country in the western world that has NO political party to represent working people. The Republicrats represent capital. Period.

--Too many recent college graduates got a diploma to put in one hand and a pancake turner for the other. We're spending $500 billion plus a year on education -- kindergarten through college -- so these kids can go to work as burger flippers and retail clerks. And private firms want to make money from that $500 billion kitty to pay executive salaries and stockholders -- funded by taxpayers, of course.

--Marketing types and voice mail consultants seem to rule the private economy. If a person can find the product they usually buy with its frequent changes in packaging and color (it was blue 2 weeks ago), it's a real win for the day. If a person gets a real human on the line, it's such a shock that it can make you speechless. A lot of grandparents have learned computers to send e-mail to their children and grandchildren. They really don't care what the name of the software is or how much RAM or ROM is needed. With this kind of public relations, TECHNOLOGY is losing, but it does put a wall between "those pesky people who call all the time" and "the people in the office trying to get some work done." And, us pesky people might learn to do without "a lot of stuff."

--California, Texas, and Florida will soon spend more on prisons than on education. In Colorado, it costs about $35,000 a year to keep an inmate in prison. Prisons are "a growing industry," or as the global economists say, "an emerging economy." Many of these prisoners are in for small-time drug offenses, while the "kingpins" go free. With these expenditures coming from taxpayer pockets, it's hard to see that we've done anything but lose the war on drugs.

--We do not punish white-collar criminals, because we would have to face too many issues. But white-collar crime costs our society bigtime. Remember the S&Ls.

--Business types are saying people shouldn't be so hard on corporations and the free market. Journalists write columns about "changes" and "trends" in the economy but no agent is named. Corporations are credited with record profits by so-called analysts. So maybe ghosts or martians are laying people off, accepting tax breaks at the federal and state level?

--Free markets? Free for whom? Who pays? And Who benefits? We are in a period in the U.S. where profits have been privatized (not taxed), and costs and risks are socialized (the average taxpayer picks up the tab). Taxpayers have been bailing out corporations like crazy -- Chrysler, the S&Ls, BMW, and the list keeps increasing. And the return on this investment by taxpayers is very hard to find. People are losing their jobs, their incomes, their healthcare. Schools are short of funds, no textbooks or computers, more and more kids dropping out. Nashville will pay for some athletic team with economic development but can't fix a school's leaking roof. Roads are not being repaired, personal bankrupticies are going up again.

--No more flashy conventions with bankers from the 50 states for the American Bankers Association. They're meeting with the World Bank.

--Poverty is spreading in America. A woman who recently returned from South America said to me, "Every time I come home to visit, the U.S. looks more and more like Brazil than the other way around."

--A friend from east Texas wrote to me, "Nice hearing from you. I hope all is well. About the article, I am too busy trying to make a living on a 1970's pay scale to get involved in social issues. I suppose they have me right where they want me. Deep down I have a feeling that the tooth fairy will join up with Santa and save America."

--After Ronnie Dugger published his "Call to Real Populists" in the 8-14-95 issue of The Nation, I responded. So did other people, and now there are 28 local alliances across the U.S.

--Ralph Nader will be on the ballot in November in California, Colorado and Maine. I will be voting for him.

You see, regular people are not involved in these discussions. They aren't at the table. They aren't attending Harvard and they probably don't have e-mail. The median wage in 1995 was $26,000. What will the median wage at the symposium be? And because of that, ideas and ideals like democracy, sovereignty, promoting the general welfare are in jeopardy.

Some people that might help with reality are -- Jim Wallis of Sojourners in Washington, DC, 202-328-8842; the Sisters of Loretto; the Piton Foundation here in Denver; Vincent Harding, Iliff School of Theology, Denver; Catholic Charities; David C. Korten (author of "When Corporations Rule the World"), People-Centered Development Forum in New York, 212-620-713; Holly Sklar (author of "Chaos or Community?"). Molly Ivins, columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, in Austin, Texas. Also see anyone talked about in "America's New War on Poverty" edited by Robert Lavelle and the staff of Blackside by KQED Books in San Francisco. Also any of the participants in the Global Teach-In 2 to be held at George Washington University May 10-12 by the Interntional Forum on Globalization, 415-771-3394.

It would be a real breath of fresh air to hear a discussion with some breadth and depth about an economy that would work for more people than the one we have now. The Oklahoma bombing trial opened here in Denver, and the journalists are lining up to cover it. Another OJ trial to cover gavel to gavel. We have Rush Limbaugh on the public tv station out of Boulder--not a very enlightened fellow even if he did get a call from Alan Greenspan. National Public Radio now gives stock market reports just like other programs--though few people in the U.S. own stocks. And there's sports. We have every kind of team in Denver you can name. I look for Denver to buy and house a lacrosse team in 1997. They call it economic development. I can't tell you what I call it and be polite.


Emilie F. Nichols

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