Remember How to Share

Song Lyrics

We already know what we need to get along.

We all have to learn how to share.
Don’t bully other kids, and always play fair.

Clean up any mess you make,
Don’t take the others’ toys,
And leave the world a better place
For people to enjoy.

Liberty and justice for all.
I’ll bet you learned it, too, when we were very small.

But if you cannot pay the rent,
There’s not much liberty.
And where’s the justice when the rich
Get out of jail for free?

[Instrumental]

Freedom just to cast a vote
Don’t really mean a thing.
You’ve got to have a living wage
To make that freedom ring.

Got to remember to share.
Don’t give it all to millionaires.

If you want to be a rich man,
Got to give some things away.
Everything you learn to share
Comes back to you some day.

It’s freedom that made our people strong.
How can we get it all so wrong?

‘Cause freedom just to cast a vote
Don’t really mean a thing.
You’ve got to have a living wage
To make that freedom ring.

Got to remember to share.
It’s really such a simple rule.

The land of opportunity
Is right before our eyes if we
Remember what we learned in school.

Words & Music ©Doug Hendren and Nancy Beall 2012

About the Issue: America has forgotten how to share.

Up until about 1980, our economic growth benefitted the rich and poor alike. Wages rose along with productivity. Since 1980, however, virtually all economic growth has been funneled to the very top, to the detriment of society as a whole. So-called “Trickle-down economics” has proven to be a myth (see the 3-minute video here).   Several factors have contributed to this trend, including more women in the US workforce; globalization with outsourcing of jobs to other countries; international trade agreements which allow domestic corporations to profit from cheaper foreign labor at no cost; tax laws which burden low-income workers with a relatively higher tax burden, while favoring giant corporate interests with tax incentives and costly subsidies to already mature and profitable industries; and the power which global corporations now wield over our government and legislative process, which has escalated dramatically since the Supreme Court’s infamous “Citizens United” decision of 2010.

Why does this matter?

Forgetting how to share isn’t just bad for poor people; it’s bad for everybody.  As shown by Wilkerson and Pickett in “The Spirit Level“, extreme inequality in wealth and income is highly toxic to society, resulting in poor health, lower life expectancy, greater anxiety and distrust,  low education, higher crime rates, and many other social indicators.  More equal societies “almost always do better”.

That sounds like socialism. Isn’t that the opposite of freedom?

The word “socialism” typically evokes fear and loathing from an American citizen. We automatically think of either Communist China or the former Soviet Union. This reaction is not accidental, but has been carefully cultivated by a small class of wealthy and influential people in the US, who profit daily from our ignorance. When we use the word “socialism”, we should be thinking instead of Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden – strong, capitalist economies with strong social democracies.  Although their taxes may be typically higher than in the US, they have a much higher minimum wage, free higher education, health care, pension, and a measure of personal security as members of their society which we seem to have lost in the United States. In these countries, people don’t go bankrupt due to college costs, or over medical bills.  In these countries, the wealthy elite has not reduced the middle class to a condition of debt servitude, an alarming trend involving workers and students alike in the US in recent years.   Our current form of predatory capitalism is different from years past, and is the very opposite of freedom for our society as a whole.

Isn’t more equality “anti-business”? Doesn’t it make people lazy?

Hardly. Consider this: In recent years, Denmark has had the highest per capita productivity in the EU, and also the greatest economic equality as measured by the Gini coefficient.

The real “freeloaders” in our society live on Wall Street.

They collectively represent an unregulated destructive force for all of us, and they consume much more than all the social spending which they criticize. Although Wall Street’s irresponsibility has destroyed countless lives and families, no US bankers have been prosecuted for this extraordinary collective crime. Instead, the banking industry has received bailout funds estimated between 4.7 and 14.7 Trillion dollars [see Money and Sustainability; the Missing Link/, Lietaer B et al, Club of Rome 2012, p.55-6]

In this song, I propose that what is driving our financial elites at present is simple selfishness, a mean-spirited impulse, which is completely at odds with the traditional American values we all absorbed as American children.  We were raised on values of fairness, freedom and justice, which are not well represented in today’s domestic policy decisions.  As Barbara Ehrenreich shows here, it’s the skilled but grossly underpaid workers in our economy at present who are the real heroes in our economy.  In this context, imposing further austerity is as morally indefensible as it is economically short-sighted.  We have just forgotten how to share.

Inspired by Robert Fulghum’s delightful book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

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