My father, after getting a law degree, was thrilled to have a job in the Depression as a manager of the National Shirt Shops, a chain of men's clothing stores located in many cities. His hard work allowed him to achieve success, and the president of the company valued his hard work and loaned him money to buy a house. When the president of the company died, the corporation was sold, and in a few years the company and all the loyal employees were gone. That was 45 years ago. When my father retired, his favorite comments were that the South no longer manufactured textiles and basketball players were making obscene amounts of money.
So how strong is America, and how long can we allow the runaway entrepreneurial culture to suck the resources from the American citizen for the benefit of a few? We are beginning to see the outcomes of this process. The following events have contributed to our present state of being:
- Laws allowing for the mergers and takeover of successful businesses that in general benefit only top management.
- Hiring CEOs who take successful business operations and lay off sometimes thousands of workers to get a bump in the stock market and then leave with a huge golden parachute when the company starts to lose money.
- A government that is committed to maintaining the stock market and uses every trick available, such as reducing interest rates and injecting money into the economy.
- Leadership culture that knowingly supports activities such as the Savings and Loan fiasco and now the sub-prime mortgage, where it appears the government will bailout only those guys at the top. In the Enron debacle, when the company folded, there was no interruption in power and, apparently, they had no product except the limiting of electrical power. One can only wonder what will happen if the current bailout does not happen.
- The rising cost of education is confirmation that the corporate model has become the template of higher education. The guys at the top get rich, the faculty get minimal wages and entrance is skewed toward the rich.
- The costs of health care are obscene. The "insurance people" take a percentage of the health care money and make no real contribution to health care. They are the Enrons of health care. The only solution to the health care problems is universal health care.
- We are no longer a maker of things. Most of us are in the service line. We export raw materials to other countries where valuable products are made, and we buy them.Outflow of cash is extensive. The dollar is failing. Gold and silver are rocketing. All these factors coupled with low interest rates have lead to real inflation.
- We have one of the largest prison populations in the world. According to the Pew Center on the States, one out of every 100 individuals in America is incarcerated. Many of these are in jail or prison for nonviolent crimes involving drugs which should not be considered criminal activities.
- The rising cost of energy, in spite of the fact that there are record profits in these industries, makes Americans afraid of the future and their survivability.
- Our worship of sports does not establish healthy standards for our young, and obesity is epidemic.
Based on the above principles, here is what is happening to our country and, in particular, our state:
- Industries in small towns in Missouri have almost vanished.
- The housing boom in Columbia has come to a standstill.
- The production and use of methamphetamine is going up, as it remains one of the few rural industries that generate capital.
- The enthusiastic government support for ethanol is unjustified and will do little to relieve our energy shortages.
- Obesity in our young is growing.
The role of land grant universities has been corrupted. The University of Missouri was established to provide a quality education at an affordable price to the children of Missouri. It does neither. The freshmen are in classes of hundreds and our fees are outrageous. The legislature does not support the university because the primary mission of education has been supplanted by financially driven research.
So what can we do? I hope that there will be new government leadership that actually wants to make substantial changes. Creating universal health care and spending money on infrastructure with an emphasis on public transportation would change everything. Universal health care would enable the entrepreneurial instincts of America to flourish, and public transportation would reduce our dependency on oil from other countries. If only these two things were accomplished, life for many would be greatly improved. Changing the laws regarding punishment for drug offenders could significantly decrease our prison population and make more funds available for education.
The fixes are straightforward.
We need new values. We need new heroes. We need to turn universities into towers of truth and provide the best education for all those willing to work hard and learn. Universities are part of the problem and not the solution. In some countries, higher education is free. Higher education should be for the smartest and not just for the richest. It's really time for change.
Eddie Adelstein is a Columbia resident and an associate professor of pathology at MU.