Thoughts on ‘Our Decadent Elites’

What happens to a nation whose elites laugh at its citizens?

What a fascinating, chilling observation by New York Times blogger Peggy Noonan, who is perhaps best known as primary speechwriter and Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan. In her essay, Ms. Noonan laments the very decisions that she helped her boss sell in the name of restoring confidence in America. She now starts to recognize the current state of our union as a consequence of those actions taken by Reagan so many years ago.

As Daily KOS notes:

  • A reduction in top income tax rates sparked huge gaps between CEO and average worker pay
  • Crushing the air traffic controllers union launched an era of economic decline for blue-collar workers
  • Deregulating the savings and loan industry led to multi-billion-dollar crises like the Keating S&L scandal.

Sound familiar? Three decisions made around 1980 have morphed into some of the most pressing issues of our time. Meanwhile, as Rome burns, we invest our common resources into social engineering and completely dismantling checks and balances needed for a healthy, intentional society.

I won’t demonize Reagan, as he was reacting in his own way to the previous decade of lost confidence – an unpopular war, the resignation of a disgraced president, and a period of stifling inflation. The time was ripe for Reagan’s optimistic message as penned by Peggy Noonan.

But, the weight is now on all our shoulders to acknowledge the negative long-term trajectories of those three decisions, and to begin making better choices.

Here’s an example. In Tennessee, political ideology contributed to VW workers just voting down membership in the UAW. Conservatives in state government had warned that VW would get no favors if they allowed the union vote to pass. Ironically, after the vote, Tennessee became VW’s only site without a worker’s collective in place to drive the healthy balance between labor and management. As this dual power structure is a key component of VW’s global corporate culture; VW has already announced it is less likely to increase investment in Tennessee moving forward. Unintended consequences.

Regarding social engineering, Ford Motor Company worked with the demographics of its day, namely a huge untapped workforce – dominantly African American southerners – who could be relocated and trained to build its fleet of cars. While by no means a perfect system, Ford’s choices were much different than today, where so much human capital goes into marginalizing minorities and social groups that are “not like us”, whatever that means.

I appreciate that Peggy Noonan is paying better attention and writing about what she sees. We can learn a lot from our decisions of the past century.

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