FEATURE: Hedrick Smith through my eyes
By: Hannah Bleau
Special to Historic City News
A few days ago, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author Hedrick Smith spoke to the local community at the Flagler Forum. I was on the panel and wrote this article about what happened and what he talked about; through my eyes.
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and esteemed author, Hedrick Smith, was the guest at the Flagler Forum Thursday, March 27, 2014 to promote his new book, “Who Stole the American Dream”.
Smith attempted to show the long line of mishaps and political aggregation that has led to a diminishing middle class and lower wages in America.
While it’s an honor that such an established man took time to come speak to the Flagler community, I have my doubts regarding his solutions to America’s problems. He’s right about the American dream itself. It does seem harder to obtain these days, but he concentrates the blame in all the wrong places, offering solutions based on skewed principles and a selective view of history.
Smith argued that corporate America has run amok. Greedy CEOs and businessmen are seething with selfishness, hungry for power and profits (sounds like some government officials I know of). Meanwhile, the government is trying to assess the corporate monsters by heroically relinquishing the middle class.
Throughout his address, I noticed his tendency to place much of the blame of the shrinking middle class on corporate America, leaving the government relatively blameless. Smith places most of the blame on corporations and their “evil” CEOs, but seems to give government officials a free pass. By doing this, he only focuses on half of the problem.
Why isn’t the government being held responsible for the “dwindling” middle class? Government officials go in to office as regular Joes and come out millionaires. Government is spending billions of hardworking taxpayer dollars on wasteful entitlement programs and bogus research projects (long live the turtle tunnels). Government is creating intrusive mandates and shackling the private sector. Government is spending more than it takes in and has not passed a budget in 5 years. Government is the problem.
Crony capitalism is running rampant in Washington. It’s about favors. It’s choosing winners and losers, and it’s the politicians who come out rich (with both money and votes). Crony capitalism undermines the functionality of our free market and republic. We get sick of politicians running off of broken promises and the lack of transparency, yet we keep electing them and getting mad at corporations for the “dwindling middle class.”
Think about it this way. If a student goes to a professor and asks if they will accept monetary payment in exchange for an A in the class and the deal goes through, why would you solely blame the student?
Smith hit on a few other topics that I personally found fault with:
According to Smith, 63 percent of Americans see America as in decline. This is attributed to “schisms in the body politic.”
WWII: Smith reminisced to the “good old days.” Back after WWII, things were great economically, because as Smith suggested, America had the only economy standing. The mindset of business leaders was that of “shared prosperity.” Now, according to Smith, business mindsets are completely different, but he fails to recognize the additional dynamic of increasing government intrusion and growth through programs such as FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society.
Grassroots movements: Smith praised the Civil Rights movement, women’s movement, and environmental movement of the 60s 70s and 80s. He said that people are not as involved in affairs as they used to be. They need to take the power back, yet in his book, he discounted the authenticity of the modern Tea Party movement. To him, it was a centrally established organization formulated by power hungry officials who wanted power and used regular citizens as puppets. In reality, it was the REAL middle class people (small business owners, families, and over all respectable citizens) who wanted government to step back.
In his book, “Who Stole the American Dream”, he says, “But instead of pushing a middle class agenda, the Tea Party freshmen in Congress have pushed tax cuts and policies that protect vested corporate and financial interests. Their strategy has been to cut aid to college education for middle-class kids, retirement funds and health care for middle-class seniors, and programs designed to keep middle class families in their home.”
Whenever progressives have no legitimate points concerning a matter they disagree with, they always point to potentially harmed victims — “But what about the children?!”
The Occupy Wall Street movement, on the other hand, was pro-middle class. No longer would the middle class take the injustice of the selfish successful people. Justice! Equality! Fairness! Smith spoke fondly of this movement, while admitting that they failed to succeed because of lack of a coherent message. Evidently, the Occupy movement- from defecating on cars to smashing ATM machines- better represented the middle class.
In his book, Smith said, “Another fresh surge of energy came last fall from Occupy Wall Street demonstrators…they gave a voice to a populist protest against concentrated power and wealth in America, and much of the public responded positively to their message. In a few short weeks, the Occupy movement, inchoate as it was, not only changed the public dialogue on economic issues, but implanted in American’s political lexicon a vivid, Twitter-easy slogan – “We are the 99 percent” – opposing the richest 1 percent – a slogan that frames a central issue for election-year politics and policy makers in Washington.”
So basically, a cheesy “Twitter-easy” tag equates legitimacy. Right.
Minimum wage: Smith believes the minimum wage should be raised. This sounds appealing to many, but there would be unintended consequences of a minimum wage hike. Small businesses would have trouble. Many would have to lay off workers in order to pay the other employees. Smith recognized this and suggested that the government offers incentives or compensation to these companies for forcing them to do something they are incapable of. This is important, because it explains the political psyche of a statist. Government causes a problem, then “fixes” the problem it caused, which then causes two or three more problems which government attempts to “fix.” This is the unending cycle that creates the crazy, bloated government we have today.
Smith said there is no correlation between economic growth and individual marginal tax rates, and that is absolutely false. In Smith’s utopian America, the American economy flourishes when taxes are sky high, but where is the incentive to invest and make more money if nearly 50 percent of it goes to the government?
Businesses lack the incentive to expand under a heavy tax burden. It is all about risk and reward. Expanding a business is about assessed risk. If taxes are low, risk decreases; and, incentive to expand increases. When incentives are given, businesses and individuals will flourish; and, when the people flourish financially, the government can do the same.
Russia: President Abare asked the last question. Because of Smith’s experience as a New York Times Moscow Bureau Chief, (and his book, The Russians), President Abare asked for his thoughts on Russia’s latest acts of aggression. To my surprise, Smith said America needed to back off of Russia. Putin is responding out of weakness, and it’s America’s fault for “stepping on their toes.” NATO, Smith explained, constantly threatens Russia. The fact that the Ukraine was getting chummy with Western alliances freaked them out. Smith also made a disturbing comparison, asking how America would respond if Canada came in made a military alliance with Russia.
This comparison solidified my initial feelings about Mr. Smith. His comparison denies that there is a distinction between Russia and America. It puts the two countries on the same playing field morally, politically, and historically. According to Smith, America poked a bear, so we need to accept that Crimea is gone and get over it.
While I admire Smith’s experience and hard work, I felt a great disconnect between his ideas and my own. His speech was disheartening. Simply put, he seems to be an established statist who loves the nanny state. If anything, it gave me a sense of urgency. Young people need to rise up and speak the truth. Age is but a number, and while experience is admirable, truth is truth, even out of the mouth of babes.