There have always been one percenters, but they haven’t always been the greedy gnomes we are confronted with today.
Take the Founding Fathers, for example. They were definitely in the one percent. Think of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton or James Madison. Robert Morris was known as the “Financier of the American Revolution.” Nearly all were uncommonly well educated for their time. Many left prosperous enterprises, to their personal detriment, to attend to the people’s business. These were one percenters we could admire. The legislatures in Washington and Hartford would have a lot to learn from them.
In 1789 the Philadelphia that the Founding Fathers traveled to was not the garden spot it is today. It was a market town of about 40,000 (about the size of Shelton in 2011). Compared to the nearly 1,000,000 inhabitants of London at the time, Philadelphia barely qualified as a backwater. Beef was slaughtered outdoors alongside the town streets, which I am confident Shelton does not permit in early 21st century Connecticut. To make matters worse the summer of ’89 was unusually hot and at least some of the convention participants yearned for the relative comfort and safety of their home estates.
Richard Beeman’s wonderful book, “Plain, Honest Men,” provides a clear minded view of the environment in which the Framers debated their views and aspirations. He pens an eye-opening description of the “new” city hall public privy (a state of the art hexagonal 24 holer) the conventioners shared with, among others, the street butchers. Imagine, if you care to, George Washington sitting next to a still bloody abattoir worker. What pleasantries might they have exchanged?
“So, how’s it going in the nation building business, George?”
“Not bad, how are the chops today?”
The people on both sides of the abattoir knew what it was like to make sausage, some literally and some figuratively. The North and the South had enormous economic differences, as did big states and little states. Yet, for the most part the representatives persevered. In my moderately humble opinion, there was a touch of genius in Mr. Madison when this plain, honest man wrote “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union . . .” I have not the academic credentials to judge the preamble to the Constitution as poetry, but it sure reads that way to me.
And how, 222 years later, have we lived up to the dreams embodied in those words? If today’s legislators in Hartford met by the abattoir near a public 24 holer for facilities, what sort of constitution would they come up with? I have an idea of what we might read.
“We the Consumers of the great State of Connecticut, in Order to form a more profitable environment, establish corporate citizenship, insure excess bank fees, provide for perpetual copyright, promote the repeal of the fourth amendment, and secure the blessings of economic domination to the one percent, do ordain and establish this Constitution.”
Of course this would never be allowed to happen. For one thing no person genuinely and merely a consumer would qualify as a stakeholder and be chosen to create anything so important as a constitution, especially one calling for the consumer to be sovereign. That brings up one of Mr. Madison’s principal points though. The president is not sovereign, nor is the vice president despite Dick Cheney’s clear view to the opposite. “We the People” are sovereign. That means you and me.
With a twist. If we are now claiming, in effect, that the consumer is sovereign, let’s cogitate on what we might want in a constitution really belonging to ‘We the Consumers’.
Maybe ‘We the Consumers’ should ban fees on debit cards? How about we constitutionally require more sales, a lot more sales, and deeper discounts while we’re at it. You know, we could flip the entire past around. Instead of guaranteeing individual rights, perhaps the Nouveau Ten Amendments could guarantee consumer rights against the tyranny of corporate greed. Instead of religion, speech , press, assembly, and petition, suppose the five freedoms of the first amendment were freedom from false advertising, freedom to have a clear description of all charges, freedom to see a clear and honest comparison among similar products, freedom to have all toys pre-assembled, freedom from having to spend entire days waiting for deliveries and freedom to have standardized clothing sizes. Well, that’s actually six freedoms, but it’s our constitution. We can require as many freedoms as we believe are necessary.
But, it isn’t ‘We the Consumers’ and we should not let our state government demean us as economic buck fodder. We are sovereign and we certainly are stakeholders in every state action. In fact, we are the primary stakeholder.
It isn’t probable that we’ll be able today to assemble the likes of those politicians that gathered in 1789, nor should we expect it. Neither should we have to settle for gnomes intent on hoodwinking us. We can do better than the crowd owned by the Chamber of Commerce and the crowd owned by the labor unions, and certainly everyone owned by the medical-industrial-insurance cabal.
Let’s finish up with a thought experiment. Suppose we put today’s lawmakers in a 1789 Philadelphia-like environment complete with public privy and convenient, nearby slaughterhouse. How long would it take Hartford legislators to learn how to reason with one another on the people’s behalf?
Illegitimi non carborundum. Vote.
Jeremy George is a Connecticut resident who offers a Humorist take on some of today’s debates.