Verist Paper No. 1The Declaration
As we settle into the 21st century, we have the resources to live rich lives in highly diversified cultures throughout the world that could foster the flowering of creativity comparable to the 5th century's Golden Age of Greece.
In The Glory That Was Greece, writes historian J. C. Stobart " … the drama was developed to full stature, sculpture grew from crude infancy to a height it has never yet surpassed, painting became a fine art, architecture rose from clumsiness to the limit of its possibilities in one direction, history was consummated as a scientific art, the most influential of all philosophies was begotten. And all this under no fostering despot, but in the extreme human limit of liberty, equality and fraternity."
Yet paradoxically, in our time, when we have unparalleled talents and material resources, instead of the flowering of creativity, there is a great stagnation.
Our mass consumer, winner-take-all culture opts for entertainment and panders to the lowest common denominator -- the best sellers, the blockbusters. It doesn't support the development of diversified, broadly-based, living art, literature, music, drama, or environments conducive to fulfilling lives.
The American Democracy has Become a Plutocracy
There are basic, underlying reasons for the prevailing worldwide conflicts and the impoverishment of life and cultures. And one of the major ones is that the United States of America, the one remaining superpower, is no longer a democracy of the people, by the people and for the people. Almost unbeknown to us it has become a plutocracy of the rich, by the rich and for the rich:, and John Kerry between $164 and $211 million.
• The two 2004 major presidential candidates are multi-millionaires: George W. Bush has assets between $8.8 and $21.9 million
• Bush and Kerry raised $367.2 and $325.9 million, respectively, for the 2004 presidenatial campaigns. (Includes October 20, 2004 reports.)
• George W.Bush’s first cabinet were all millionaires, save one.
• The nine U.S. Supreme Court justice are all millionaires.
• The U.S. Senate has become a “Millionaires’ Club.”
• In 2002 the average winning Senate campaign had to raise more than $5 million. In large states it’s much more expensive: the 2002 North Carolina Senate race cost $27 million; the 2002 New York Senate race was $90 million.
• As Senate races have become even more expensive, more candidates "self-finance" – the super rich pay for their own campaigns. In 2000 Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., spent $60 million of his own money to get elected.
• The top one percent of Americans own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent.
• A quarter of working Americans earn poverty wages of $8.40 per hour or less.
And all this is merely the tip of the iceberg. For a comprehensive look on how the United States was transformed from a democracy to a plutocracy see historian Kevin Phillips’ book, Wealth and Democracy – A Political History of the American Rich (Broadway Books). The dictionary definition of plutocracy: “A class or group ruling, or exercising power or influence, by virtue of its wealth.”
Robber Barons Ravaging the World
The U.S. plutocracy has become the platform that unleashed the multinational corporate CEOs, the new Robber Barons, who under the guise of globalization and speculative capitalism -- and with the aid of the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank – are plundering every corner of the world for profit.
While downsizing and offshoring American middle-class jobs, the new Robber Barons are exploiting people of the developing world like the Robber Barons of 1890 - 1915 exploited Americans: sweatshops with abysmally low wages; 10, 12 and sometimes 18-hour work shifts, without overtime pay; child labor; inadequate safety, health and environmental safeguards; no pension or health benefits; and summary discharges for union organizers.
Much of the world is beginning to hate the U.S. for unleashing the exploiting Robber Barons on them. World-wide terrorism against American interests has been fueled by that hatred.
The greedy CEOs are degrading media and homogenizing cultures all over the world, subjecting everything to the standards of mass consumption and the quarterly profit and loss statements of speculative capitalism.
These new Robber Barons are currently offshoring, with the blessings of the Bush administration, tens of thousands of jobs to improve their corporate bottom lines, and attempt to justify raising their own bonuses on top of their already astronomical salaries. A recently released report by the highly influential Boston Consulting Group provides the CEOs with added rationalizations for massive offshorings of jobs and operations.
The report maintains that “Globalization is no longer merely an option but an imperative. The migration of sourcing, manufacturing, R&D, and services operations from high-cost countries (HCCs) to low-cost countries (LCCs) is well under way and accelerating. Fully loaded wage rates, including benefits, of $1 to $2 per hour in LCCs—compared with rates typically between $15 and $25 in the United States and as high as $30 or more in Europe—are the primary driver.”
The report urges that U.S. companies speed up offshoring their operations to China and India, including key functions such as research and development. “The largest competitive advantage will lie with those companies that move soonest. Companies that wait will be caught in a vicious cycle of uncompetitive costs, lost business, underutilized capacity, and the irreversible destruction of value.”
As the middle class is being devastated, ordinary Americans are living under a sword of Damocles: economic insecurity, massive disappearances of well-paying jobs and benefits, and fears of permanent relegation to low-wage, dead-end jobs.
Culture of Entertainment and Consumption
In 2004 an estimated half a trillion dollars was spent on advertising worldwide to entice us into consuming more and more, which is depleting our resources, ruining our lands, and polluting our air, rivers and oceans. This culture of consumption and entertainment is a modern version of what in Roman times was known as “bread and circuses.” It distracts us from what is really happening and is exacting an exceedingly high price from us individually and collectively:
• It has produced a "winner-take-all society," with a few at the top of the pyramid, relegating everyone else to being spectators, reactors and victims.
• The CEOs have downsized their companies by laying off 57.2 million Americans since
1979. With about a million employees being laid off each year, our
workplaces have become cauldrons of stress, anxiety, and insecurity. Demands
for greater output with fewer workers is causing widespread job-related
burnouts. Americans work the longest number of hours in the industrialized
world, according to an International Labor Organization
survey. Yet, more than ever before, we fear becoming career casualties in
the next round of layoffs and ultimately being relegated to marginal, dead-end jobs at Staples, McDonalds, Wal-Mart...
To get a sense of what it is really like working in an American sweatshop, click on Staples.
• The urban overcrowding and traffic congestion has trapped many of us
in highly stressful "commuter treadmill" lifestyles.
• The mounting stress has pushed millions into escapism, alcohol and other drug abuse, gambling, compulsive shopping, over-eating, as well as excessive TV viewing, spectator sports
and Internet surfing.
•Some 6.7 million Americans were on probation, in jail or prison, or on parole at yearend 2002.
• We needn't be afraid to be considered elitists if we affirm the obvious: that our media is a wasteland
of trivia and trash, dominated by hustlers and celebrities assaulting us
with hundreds of shrill messages daily on how much happier we'll be if we just buy
what they are hawking.
• The consumer culture has estranged us from each other by destroying
any real sense of community and neighborhood. We have become even more A
Nation of Strangers than what Vance Packard documented over a quarter of a
century ago. Social alienation has deepened. More than ever before we are Bowling Alone, as John Putnam's book of that title so scrupulously documents, and as I
personally observed during a 9,000-mile research trip around the U.S.
Genesis of the Culture of Consumption
Let's take a quick historical glance on how we have been manipulated into
becoming the unwitting participants of the consumer culture, first in the United States, from where it has spread to the rest of the world.
The social historian William Leach points out in his groundbreaking work, Land of
Desire - Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture, (Pantheon
Books) that "From the 1890s on, American corporate business, in league with key
institutions, began the transformation of American society into a society
preoccupied with consumption, with comfort and bodily well-being, with
luxury, spending, and acquisition... American consumer capitalism produced a
culture almost violently hostile to the past and to tradition, a
future-oriented culture of desire that confused the good life with goods."
They stole the deeper meaning and purpose from our lives, and buried us "in
an avalanche of junk," according to culture critic David Denby.
Historian Neal Gabler (Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality) elaborates further on this theme: "As the culture submits to the tyranny of entertainment, as life becomes a movie, critics complain that America has devolved into a 'carnival culture' or 'trash culture,' where everything is coarsened, vulgarized and trivialized, where the meretricious is more likely to be rewarded than the truly deserving and where bonds of community that were once forged by shared moral values and traditions are now forged by tabloid headlines, gossip and media."
What Has To Be Done
First, recall what happened when Americans came under a comparable siege by the Robber Barons of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
From 1890 through 1915 Verist writers were the investigative journalists who laid the framework for the Progressive Era and as muckrakers spearheaded the revolt against the Robber Barons.
Largely through exposés the Verist writers prepared the public climate for passage of key laws and the enforcement of existing anti-trust laws that broke up the oil, railway, steel, food processing, banking and tobacco monopolies and neutralized the Robber Barons.
Almost a century after the early muckraking Verists helped bring about profound changes to America, a new generation of Verists is coming forth to document and publicize the consequences of globalization, the huge increase in power of the multinational corporations and the vast redistribution of wealth that has devastated the middle and working classes and is ruining cultures all over the world.
We propose to examine these and other issues in depth. We would like to invite you to participate with us in coming up with bold alternatives and innovations. We are requesting that you to submit high-quality, original articles on these and related issues, that have not been submitted to or published in any other publications in a similar form, to be published on this Web site under the Verist Papers banner. The Federalist Papers can be our model.
Also Share Your Personal Experience
How have you been affected personally by these drastic changes? Are you among the 57.2 million Americans who were downsized since 1979? Was your career derailed? Where you thrown out on the street or forced into early retirement with reduced annuity and benefits?
To make ends meet, have you had to juggle a couple of part-time or temporary low-wage jobs with no health or retirement benefits? For an example see Verist Papers: No. 3, by clicking American Sweatshops.
What about writing an article on this theme: Worked Hard All My Life; Here Is What Happened.
Are you a native of a developing country? Share with us what your life has been like. Or are you an ex-pat? Describe your life.
Just remember that the scope of Verism is broad and not confined merely to economics, politics or investigative journalism. If you want to protect your privacy, pick a pen name to write under.
Also if you have an original article or comments to submit for publication on the Verist Writers Network, e-mail it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. It may be edited for space reasons. On the
subject line please include NETWORK in caps; otherwise your e-mail may get deleted by the
Another way to become involved: send this Web site to at least three fellow writers you know and take steps toward forming a Verist Writers Group where you live. Either e-mail it to them directly with your personal note or go to the top of this page and click on the "Tell Others" tab.