by Chris Theodore
(This article appeared in print in the most recent version of The Reader Magazine)
In 2012, the US government took in nearly $2.5 trillion in revenue, 80% of it came from individuals, a whopping $2 trillion, with nearly half coming from payroll and Social Security tax, right from people's wages. It seems George Baily's admonishment to Mr. Potter, in It's A Wonderful Life, about who it was paying "most of the bills around here" is still true. It is the working class of the US, the same people George Bailey defended and criticized Potter for seeing as "cattle". Corporations, by contrast, contributed $237 billion in corporate tax, less than 10% of the 2012 income earned by the US government.
We certainly have some Mr. Potters today, who instead of "owning nearly everything in town", control nearly everything in America. For example, six members of the Walton family control a $115 billion fortune, more wealth than a staggering 42% of Americans combined.
In It's a Wonderful Life we learn what would have happened to a community, a family and a military transport ship of young GIs if George wouldn't have lived, and what would have happened to a town if he and his father hadn't put up a fight and operated a small, locally-owned business. What was a beautiful, imperfect small American town loses name, innocence, character and beauty. It does not become what it could of been because of the impact of a few, dedicated family members to operate a business with goals beyond the bottom line.
What modern day Mr. Potters-- the CEOs of the largest transnational banks and corporations-- have on their side to obscure the facts of "who is paying the bills around here" is their public relations strategists and the allegiance or ownership of media.
Six mammoth companies, with a combined $275 billion in annual revenue, now control 90% of American information. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian novelist who raised global awareness about the forced labor camps of the former USSR said "those who control your information control your judgement".
Let's be realistic. How much of the truth do you think we're getting from the major media companies which are as big as they are because of Wall Street financing? Why would any of them share a realistic look at how money flows through the US government, the machinations of Wall Street or how corporations and wealthy individuals dominate our political process?
In my twenties I read William Shirer's on-the-street saga of the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and recall three aspects that the author documented as part of his experience living and working in Nazi Germany.
First, he notes that lying, betrayal and treachery were at the heart of the regime. How would people ever accept something as destructive and against their interest as untruthfulness in those in power? Answer: the means of communications were corrupt and did not tell the truth. Second, he notes the unbridled power of the state-run news to influence even his own thinking, despite him knowing the ideas were false. And third, he notes that domination of the German people by their government didn't occur at with a bang, all at once; the suppression of freedoms occurred legally and incrementally.
A single freedom was legally taken away, not from all but rather from a group. The people were surprised and disappointed but, with the help of a pliant press demonizing the group which had lost that freedom, the new law was accepted, and the acceptance set the stage for further loss of freedoms, to an increasingly wide circle until the nation fundamentally changed.
By contrast, Americans are free. We enjoy freedoms that are amongst the most liberal in the world. But it should be understood that the unabated loss of our economic freedom represents to our ability to have a say in the life we are living, and leaving for our children. To be stripped of economic power "legally and incrementally" without protest is a terrible inheritance to leave to our children.
I think our collective failure to oppose the consolidation of companies that provide information in the US has resulted in a cycle of corruption in which no politician can dare reign in these companies because of their power to shape public opinion. We have also failed to adequately understand the necessity of independent media to challenge and agitate the powerful. We have become a nation annoyed by protesters-- because the powerful, shaping our opinions through their news outlets-- are annoyed, and afraid of protesters and actual democratic activity that would challenge (and bring corrective reform) to our most powerful institutions.
The solution to most of our problems is rather simple. We have to restore truth to its natural cycle of enabling people to respond to factual information. What none of the six media companies have-- despite their size-- is a journalistic connection with every single American. It's true. 220 million Americans above 18 are not tuning in to any one TV show. 119 million Americans (more than 1 in 3) don't have broadband Internet. But a magazine, sent by the USPS can reach absolutely everyone. Four 40-page magazines represents only 1/2000 of the average US household's annual paper consumption. Imagine the impact such a magazine would have if it informed all US citizens, all at once, about all the things the media giants have carefully avoided for the last four decades?
While reaching everyone, The Reader's model is so environmentally superior to junk mail that when just 2% of US small businesses adopt it, it reduces green house gasses by 6.5 million tons, enough that 1000 transitions with equal environmental impact would reduce total US green house gasses to net zero.
Imagine if the one media property that reached every single American was non-profit, or a combination of profit and non-profit, such as, locally-owned businesses paying for advertising next to articles produced by non-profit organizations like Center for Public Integrity, Citizens for Tax Justice, and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, all of which with a hunger for truth over profits.
People from across the US like you and me, would have an information source backed by the economic power of local communities and the 27 million small, locally-owned businesses which spent $11 billion on mailed, display advertising in 2012.
This is terrible news for the mainstream media, unaccountable politicians and big business, and one they are certain to act quickly to quash. It means their monopoly has a gaping Achilles heel in the form of the USPS, locally-owned businesses and our existing freedoms. That's why you should support this magazine-- because it supports you-- and without you-- just like without George Baily, your community and this magazine might not be what it can be.