Well, Mussolini Did Get The Trains Running On Time, Right?
No, he did not. That’s 100% myth. Politicians, both in the bad old days of Fascism and the enlightened era of our free and open culture, had two primary means of swaying public opinion: the first way is to do something to benefit the people you serve and the second way is to claim you did something to benefit the people you serve. I’m going to go way out on a limb and state my belief that in present day America, we’re inundated with the second option.
Back to the fun loving Benito Mussolini. Before leading his National Fascist Party to its glorious march on Rome in October 1922. Benny decided that organized labor was a primary cause of the problems in Italy and the world in general. Before his march, he had a dedicated group of intelligent, highly respected supporters called “black shirts” beat the hell out of union activists. The already fragile unions collapsed and Benny, or “Moose” as I refer to him, stormed into power and the Italian King Vittorio Emanuele handed over Italy. So let’s get the trains running – back to work.
At the time Moose took power, a major railroad renovation that was started by Vittorio was only about 3 months away from completion. Once the dust settled, the project was completed, and in a fashion consistent with politicians, the one in charge takes credit for whatever happens that’s good and occurs during the reign, and blames the previous administration for whatever isn’t working. There’s nothing new or alarming with that notion.
So let’s suppose the new Italian rail system is running, and you’re the lucky person with the lofty job of overseeing the magnificent accomplishment and Moose asks “So tell me (your name here), how are the trains doing? Are they all running on time?”
Nothing in this world is perfect and neither are your trains so you tell Moose the truth, “Better, but we still have some problems to fix.” These would likely be the last words you ever get to utter in your life. Get this: (your name here), you must tell him “PERFECT!” That’s the only acceptable answer if you want your job and your life. You need to practice that, say it 100 times without stopping – “PERFECT!”
I’ve often considered the psychology of power. Whether it’s a fascist dictatorship, a communist dictatorship, a monarchy or a democracy, there are certain consistent and horribly dysfunctional threads. Among the most obvious to me is the desire to motivate support among various groups by appealing to greed, avarice, hatred, fear and of course, money. As I was growing up in the 1950’s and into the turbulent ‘60’s, I saw labor unions flex enormous muscle: financially, politically and even physically. From Jimmy Hoffa and the determined and at times violent Teamsters, to Mike Quill shutting down the New York City Transit System, to an avalanche of legislation intended to protect workers’ rights. Financial crisis followed.
In our America today, wealthy multi-national companies are exacting massive financial clout and they have lobbyists and politicians intent on dismembering organized labor, outsourcing work to China, India and Viet Nam in the name of saving their organizations. They’re not saving their organizations, they’re fattening their wallets. I quote from the very mainstream Bloomberg Report:
“Disclosures in Switzerland and Delaware by Eli Lilly & Co. show the Indianapolis-based pharmaceutical company carried out many of the steps for a tax-free importation of foreign cash after its roughly $6 billion purchase of ImClone Systems Inc. in 2008
“They’re aided by a cadre of attorneys, accountants and investment bankers in the tax-planning industry — such as a panel of KPMG LLP tax advisers who held forth in a chilly hotel ballroom at a Philadelphia conference last month. There, they discussed a series of techniques for multinationals to return cash from overseas while avoiding or deferring the taxes.
“KPMG tax advisers Kevin Glenn and Tom Zollo used slides to describe several methods. One diagram resembled a schematic from the Manhattan Project. Another strategy would require certain “bells and whistles” to convince regulators of an actual non-tax business purpose, Glenn explained.”
Bloomberg also reported that “Eli Lilly and Co. and Oracle Corp. were among other big companies that helped drive a 70-percent increase in accumulated earnings abroad that weren’t taxed in the U.S.” The report further stated that Oracle has a very profitable subsidiary in Ireland with no employees. What’s that mean? I think it means it’s a bank account and corporate paperwork and not a hell of a lot more than that.
Profit isn’t a dirty word. It’s a good place for a business to be and it’s not easy to generate it. Entrepreneurs are vital to growth and all the benefits that come from peace and prosperity. Sorry Karl, communism was really a lame idea that was further distorted by becoming an excuse for totalitarianism. But in recent years, laws and tax codes and leverage has favored big business and big money, and just as the arrogant power and influence of unions fueled financial crisis, so has this catering to wealth and permitting unconscionable financial practices to not only flourish, but be accepted as business as usual.
Right now, I see gray-haired guys chasing down shopping carts in the Walmart parking lot. This was a first job for kids, now it’s a last resort for middle aged folks who lost their jobs and need to support a family, or struggle to make ends meet and pay the oil bill. Unions are under attack both by big business and some brutal, nasty little politicians across the country. I suppose that’s a pay back for big business having been under attack by labor and some brutal, nasty little politicians a few decades ago. Beaten up and bloodied, our working class and middle class are accepting less in response to a desperate reality. Screw the union, this is survival. We’ll accept the scraps.
So, as we gear up for another prolonged presidential campaign, and brace ourselves for an onslaught of television ads convincing us that nobody is worthy of the job. The political parties are busy with their claims to benefit the people they serve. The Democrats note the disparity in the distribution of wealth and want to tax the wealth back into circulation. The Republicans present the argument that the wealth is the source of jobs, jobs, jobs and we need to lessen the tax burden on our corporations and wealthiest citizens and that will lead us to the promised land of milk, honey and prosperity. They’re both wrong and they’re both drowning in special interests.
The last place I want wealth to be transferred to is our politicians. Government programs are horrifically inefficient I don’t want to fuel that. So are the Republicans right? Hell no. Multi-National Corporations aren’t job making machines, they’ve evolved into greed machines. Somehow it sounds rather “pinkish” to challenge greed so let me make a distinction. Profit is good, greed isn’t. If you don’t believe me watch “It’s A Wonderful Life”, it’s all well documented in there.
So the focus is on who and what’s to blame. The tax code does need to be changed, but it really won’t be change no matter who gets in. It’ll be manipulated and likely further complicated to benefit the special interests, lobbyists, with the approval of a drooling “cadre of tax attorneys and accountants.” The problem isn’t the tax code, it’s a failure to heed advice that Aristotle gave us over 2,000 years ago: “balance.”
We don’t have balance. As large companies export jobs, money and expand the excesses of senior management, they are also shipping out their long-term best interest in having a viable, prosperous working class and middle class that are their customers, and ultimately the path to expanded wealth. I just realized, I did use a dirty word: “long-term.” Long-term thinking means “this quarter” to many executives. Wealth has been largely accepted and worshiped as something you accumulate. I believe it’s something you create. That last thought got a good laugh in the executive wing.
We’re out of balance. Failing to take care of each other and be garden variety fair to each other. We don’t speak in terms of solutions; we don’t negotiate in good faith. We complain, blame and scapegoat. We fail to see that we’re all in this life boat together, and the reality of a life boat is that if one side sinks, so does the other.
So what does this have to do with Mussolini? He took control amidst massive imbalance in Italy, Europe and the world. People wanted things “fixed” and fixed quick. No more bull, fix the problem and looked for clear solutions and entrusted the fate to a brutal, vicious thug, a monomaniac on a mission and paid a terrible price for the misspent trust. Italy was imbalanced: America is imbalanced. These aren’t merely difficult times, I believe these are dangerous times. But then again, that was fascist Italy, it could never happen here.
We too want a quick fix. A definitive solution in the midst of hostility, adversarial rhetoric, false claims of benefit and use of leverage. It’s not about solving problems: it’s about who has the higher threshold of pain. Hatred isn’t an overstatement and mistrust in everywhere I turn. We can’t fix anything like this, but we can do quite a bit of destruction.
So Moose got the trains running on time? The tracks are littered with lies, deceit, retaliation, coercion, abuse, brutality and oppression. He didn’t get them running on time, he just claimed that he did. And even if he did do it, considering the price for timely arrival, I think I’d rather wait for a train.
What’s your opinion? I’d like to hear from you. Please reply on this blog. Thanks for reading. Prof. Dave