"The State of the Union 1975"
By George S. McGovern
The American spirit is uncertain. First there was Watergate. Now there is
economic collapse. And from these things has come not only the dangerous
condition of our country, but a pervasive doubt about our capacity to correct
I believe we can find solutions in our origins.
Our nation comes from a revolution against political tyranny. Now we must
finish that revolution by replacing and by repudiating the tyranny of the
What has happened to us is not a random visitation of fate. It is the
result of forces which have assumed control of the American structure --
economic royalists as oppressive as the Crown 200 years ago. These forces are
militarism, monopoly and the maldistribution of wealth.
Militarism still depletes our economy because it still dominates our
The horror of Vietnam continues, now with surrogate bullies firing American
bullets and dropping American bombs. American troops are gone; the color of
the bodies has changed, but the bodies still fall to save the face of the
militarists who wanted this war, who fought it with our sons and who lost it.
The militarists are still lavishing arms and money on the generals in Saigon
who will not keep the peace agreement because they want more war to keep
their own power.
Scientists have estimated that, if they were properly targeted, the bombs
and missiles of either the United States or the Soviet Union could destroy
all human life on the planet 50 times over. Our own stockpile is now equal to
roughly 615,000 Hiroshimas and is still mounting.
This year the Pentagon will demand over $100 billion to perpetuate this
insanity. The generals will claim three-fifths of all the money Congress can
spend just to underwrite past and present wars and to maintain a far-flung
military machine for the future.
It is time to say no to the militarists. We must refuse to be persuaded
that the process of negotiations is more important than their purpose. We
must repudiate the "bargaining chip" absurdity and reduce a bloated arms
budget. We must reject a $20 billion B-1 bomber and the host of other useless
refinements in overkill.
A rational assessment of any external threat and a realistic understanding
of the costs, the futility and the danger of arms will take away tens of
billions of dollars from the Pentagon. And it will wipe away the stain of a
militarism which supplies the means for torture in Chile, fuels dictatorship
and forces human misery in Vietnam, Korea, the Philippines and elsewhere.
The second force disrupting our national economy is monopoly -- the
concentration of corporate enterprise which makes us a people without power
in our own marketplace.
Just 200 massive corporations now control nearly two-thirds of America's
manufacturing assets. And mass means power.
It means not only economic power to control the market but political power
to guarantee a privileged position. It means lavish advertising budgets to
brainwash the consumer in favor of senseless directions. It means influencing
and often dominating the government regulatory agencies which are supposed to
protect the consumer. It means enterprise that need not be concerned with
sound business principles and quality products because there is no threat of
competition and, in any case, the government will always save the day with a
regulatory ruling, a new tax loophole or a Lockheed loan.
Most of all the concentration of industrial wealth means free enterprise
rules cannot work. Economic remedies based on those rules are predestined to
We have heard that we suffer skyrocketing inflation in a faltering economy
simply because food and petroleum have been in short supply. It has hardly
been mentioned that those commodities are controlled by two of the most
The nature of the oil industry has been exposed in a short and painful
time. Just seven multinational companies control 80% of the world's supply of
petroleum. They control it from the well to the gas pump and at every stage
in between. The consumer's sacrifice has been big oil's opportunity to extort
more governmental favors and secure an even tighter grip on the market. And
now the shared petroleum monopoly is striving to become an energy monopoly
by buying up coal companies and leases on Western coal reserves.
In the food industry the six largest grain dealers handle 90% of all wheat;
one soup company, Campbells, sells 90% of all soup; four large processors
control 90% of all breakfast food; in each of more than 200 major
metropolitan areas four large grocery chains control more than half of the
What is the effect on prices and profits? Even that is hard to learn
because business refuses to tell. Continental Baking, for example, is owned
by ITT which does not report the profits of its subsidiaries separately.
Safeway, a large food manufacturer as well as retailer, publishes only
companywide figures. Nearly all conglomerates practice similar concealment.
Giantism, not only in food and oil but across the economy, is a major
underlying cause of inflation. One standard defines a shared monopoly as four
or fewer firms controlling 50% or more of the market -- and one Federal Trade
Commission report has concluded that if the market share of those firms could
be cut to 40% or less, prices would fall by at least 25%.
Through direct public participation in the management of major corporations
or through federal chartering or through other measures, we must direct
private economic plans according to the public interest. We have intervened
before to protect monopoly and to preserve kinds of enterprise that have
outlived their time; now we must intervene to save our economy and to
convert wasteful or harmful enterprise to essential work for the nation.
The third flaw in our economic structure is the maldistribution of national
The statistics are as simple as they are shameful: For the last 20 years,
despite heralded social programs, poverty wars and the rest, the relative
distribution of America's national wealth has stayed essentially the same.
The most prosperous fifth of the population receives more than 40% of all
money income. The poorest fifth barely exists on a tenth as much.
There must be a reasonable incentive for individual initiative -- but that
is no reason for insensitivity to human deprivation. Perhaps no society in
the world can be truly classless -- but that is no excuse for a class-
dominated economy in America.
Millions of Americans need and want jobs which are not there. Past
leadership has played a cruel trick on them. It has scorned them as "loafers"
and worse. At the same time it has called full employment a "myth," and has
contrived to drive unemployment to the highest level in a generation.
Government has forced the indignity of joblessness, then compounded the pain
We must replace this economics of exploitation with an economics of equity.
Our policy must be a prosperity fairly achieved and fairly distributed.
That means first that the burdens of today's crisis and its immediate
solutions must be fairly shared. We must conserve energy. But we must do it
through an equitable system of rationing, not through devices to raise prices
so the wealthy can buy all they want while the poor cannot afford what they
need. We must stimulate the economy. But we must do it through public
investment and the reduction of regressive payroll taxes, not through a feast
of tax rebates and loopholes for the rich. We must preserve today's jobs and
create millions more. But we must do it by converting the economy to meet
urgent national needs, not by across-the-board investment credits that
subsidize the wrong endeavors and subvert the redirection of enterprise.
Just as the morality of the Asian war challenged America's conscience in
the Sixties, so the distribution of our resources and the fairness of our
economy will be the test of our character in the Seventies. We cannot serve
both the people and the exploiters. We must fight for the people, to give
them back their economy.
The Constitution charges the president to report on the state of the Union.
In his message to Congress, President Ford conceded the obvious: "The state
of the Union is not good." But he also called for policies which will make it
worse. At every point where the president had a choice, he picked a policy
that will help the rich and hurt the rest of us. Nowhere did he discuss the
underlying causes of crisis.
Our time has been stained by the bloodiest wars and the darkest genocide.
Yet we are confronted still by stark questions of human and national
We dare not respond with conventional rhetoric, with empty measures, with
paper promises signifying nothing but a thirst for political power. For the
people know better. They seek leadership that will shake and reshape things
as they are, for they know we cannot go on the way we have been.
There is a great wave cresting across America. It first stirred and then
mounted during the protest against racism and war; it has been swelled by a
revulsion against the corruption of our values and a revolt against the
exploitation of our economy.
The economic royalists will fight to turn it aside. For it threatens to sweep
over the status quo and sweep down the walls which guard the citadels of
But for us this is not a threat; it is an opportunity. For if we ride and
reinforce the wave of change, then before it is spent, we will restore the
ideals of this land and lift the quality of life among ourselves and for our
brothers and sisters around the world.
- Rolling Stone, 3/13/75.
40 years ago....could have been written today
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