What Kind of Country Do You Want to Live In?

“I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our land.” – Thomas Jefferson, 1816.

“Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and servants of the people, are fast becoming the people’s masters.” – President Grover Cleveland, 1886 State of the Union Address.

Masters issue ultimatums. Masters threaten severe punishment to their servants.

For more than two centuries we the people have struggled over fundamental questions of corporate power over us and our government. Boeing’s unjust threats of massive job losses and economic devastation brings this issue home once again.

Between 2003 and 2012, Boeing pre-profits totaled $35 billion. They received $1.8 billion in federal income tax rebates (a negative 5% tax rate) and $96 million in state income tax rebates. My wife and I paid 22% in federal taxes in 2012.

In 2013, their stock price is up 73%; fourth quarter dividends up 50%. Boeing has so much spare cash that they are spending $10 billion to buy back stock, further benefiting shareholders. This should be a wonderful time for the company, its dedicated workers and the communities that have supported the company for the past 96 years.

In the midst of this enormous success, Boeing threatens our state, its workers and our communities with massive job losses. They demanded $8.7 billion in tax breaks and that union machinists give up a defined benefit pension and many other hard won gains that build the middle class in our region. Does Boeing really need this money? No! But why not make these demands?

On November 12th Governor Inslee signed the largest state business tax break in 237 years of American history. The debate lasted three days. The lightning quick response of Governor Inslee and most of the Legislature clearly shows that they believe that Boeing is their and our master.

The union machinists refusal of Boeing’s unjust and unnecessary demands is a profile in courage and a powerful statement that they are a free people and not the servants of Boeing. They stood up for themselves, their families and our communities. They stood for a future in which powerful corporations have real responsibilities to their workers and generations to come.

Having said this, I ask: What kind of country do we want to live in? What kind of future do we want to give to our children and future generations? Have corporations become our masters?

Imagine a foreign country threatening our state and its workers, unions and communities in the following way: “We demand $8+ billion in ransom. Your workers give up much of their financial security for their old age. You must accept a reduced standard of living and less affordable health care. You have 10 days to decide. If you do not submit, we will punish you for many years. Thousand will lose their jobs. Your children’s futures will be diminished. Your communities will be damaged by the loss of jobs, income and stability. We will take away what you have fought for over the past 90 years.

“WE ARE YOUR MASTERS. YOU HAVE NO ALTERNATIVE. DO NOT DEFY US OR WE WILL PUNISH YOU.”

No foreign country would do this. But Boeing would and has. It is considered a good business practice and responsible management by some.

Is this the kind of country you want? A country with very wealthy corporations legally extorting an entire state, workers and communities with impunity. Corporations with no loyalty to those who build their success. Workers and communities more expendable than the machinery. A country of throwaway workers and communities. Growing retirement insecurity amidst fabulous wealth. Is this the best we can do as a people and country?

I ask again, Is this the kind of country we want to live in? I say no! This is our country but we live in fear of our corporate overlords. Enough of this economic tyranny. I challenge all of us to begin to think about what kind of country we want. What is our vision of a better future with greater economic security free from unjust corporate threats? What values anchor our positive vision? How do we build a new future in which we have growing security as we become wealthier as a nation?

We don’t have to accept this type of world. We must dare to dream and begin building a more just and sustainable future. More on this later.

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