The Republicans would have us believe that things were better before we had all of those pesky regulations, social programs, and labor unions. They would prefer a country controlled by business and based on pure capitalism. The question is: Were things really that good back in the “good old days?”
As for a “capitalistic run economy,” all we have to do is look at the 19th century to see what that would be like. In the 19th century there was virtually no middle class as we know it. The average American (men, women, and children) worked more than 12 hours per day, 6 days a week for starvation wages and continued working until they died or were disabled.
When a child was able, they went to work in the factories, mines, or fields. Injuries and deaths in the factories and mines were common but there was no decent medical care or compensation for workers or their families and, if you could no longer work, you were fired.
Average life expectancy was about 47 years (52.5 if you don’t consider infant mortality). Social Security, or any type pension, would not be an issue since most never reached what we consider retirement age. If someone was able to actually reach retirement age and had a large enough family, their family would be expected to care for these older relatives, which was usually a severe financial and medical burden.
Air and water pollution was not regulated and epidemics of yellow fever, cholera, etc. were frequent. There were no sewerage plants and human waste was simply dumped in the waterways. Food processing plants were an abomination (read “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair). Roads were not paved and police and fire protection was poor or non-existent. Public schools (one of our socialist programs) didn’t exist and most Americans were illiterate. Unregulated financial institutions could call in a loan without any reason and, if you couldn’t pay, they could take your property.
Those “capitalists” or “robber barons” of the late 19th and early 20th century who profited from these conditions and opposed regulations were the early Republicans. The Democratic Party was the party that instituted the changes and regulations that improved conditions and allowed the growth of a middle class. Most of the changes, regulations, and government departments of enforcement began after the Great Depression, which, as most agree, was caused by the pro-business Republican administrations of Presidents Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover.
Rather than reducing regulations and abolishing regulatory agencies, we need more and better regulations, especially for the financial institutions and Wall Street. The Republican Party, of course, not only opposes such regulations but they want to do away with the ones we have now. As the old saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for.”
Robert Hirsch, a Miramar Beach resident, has an M.A. in History and was the Walton County Executive Committeeman to the Florida Democratic Party.