Matthews: Is the system broken?


I was in East Berlin the week the Wall came down.  I interviewed a number of East German working people about the reasons for their despair with the Communist system.

It was telling. What they complained about was the way the system betrayed them.  The people who believed in the Socialist system - who considered themselves good communists - did their jobs as best they could and expected to be treated with economic respect - with fairness.

They were betrayed.  The people who did well in East Berlin were the hustlers - the people who got to deal with foreigners - the taxi drivers - the people who could get tips. They were getting paid in West German currency which was worth a lot. 

The factory managers and school principals, meanwhile, were getting paid in East German currency - East Marks - which were worthless on the world market.  They couldn’t travel anywhere but Hungary and Poland - the two countries that would accept their cheap Communist currency.

Anytime they wanted to go on vacation they would get bumped by any West German hitchhiker who came along with western currency - money that was worth something.

The system humiliated the East Germans, adding economic insult to economic injury day in and day out. The people who worked hard and played by the rules were getting screwed while the people who lived off foreign currency were the only ones getting a break.  All the time, the good communists were watching the West Germans living like - West Germans.

What killed Communism was how it betrayed the good people who did their jobs, the East German equivalent of our middle class.

What happens in this country when the middle class see the system here working against it?  What happens when the people who make things see the wealth of the country going to the very top - to those who seem to make money off having money?

Today we learned from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office that the top one percent has doubled its share of the take.

Something tells me they are not going to roar up and say “enough is enough” like the East Germans twenty-two years ago, but they’re definitely beginning to rumble.

The worker bees who believe in free markets are beginning to wonder if the level playing field just got a little too slanted.



Matthews: Is the system broken?