I had a strange experience this week when a former reader managed to track me down to inquire about getting a copy of a column published back when I was writing for King Features Syndicate. The column appeared in the Youngstown, Ohio Vindicator in 1986. How she found me all these years later, I don't know, but she did. I dug into the back of my closet and pulled out the old notebooks in which I kept these columns, not having looked at them for a couple of decades. I found the column she wanted and as I was looking, I found another one that I'd forgotten about.
It was one I'd written about things my father used to tell me. At the time, I thought of him as being rather a conspiracy theorist, his paranoia branded into his soul during the terrible times of the Great Depression. He died on my 27th birthday, 1972.
As I read it, I was stunned by how prescient he had been about what might occur in the times ahead. I always remember my father telling me, as his mother had told him, to get myself "a little piece of ground", a bolt hole for tough times, if you will. If could rig up an independent energy source, such as wind or water power, so much the better.
For my father believed that "They", meaning the people in power, I guess, would eventually try to control the populace through Six Steps:
1) Long before Jimmy Carter and OPEC, Dad expounded on his view that They would manufacture a phony energy crisis and that oil prices would soar. Eventually, he thought, they might go up to as high as $2 a gallon (a little off the mark there!) but then, they would subside and the people would be happy that their representatives who'd managed the crisis had their best interests at heart. In the aftermath, those who controlled energy would hold the levers of power.
2) Step Two would be a push to break the unions. My father's prediction was that they would choose one particular union and convince the people of its outrageously unfair demands. When it was sufficiently unpopular, it would be crushed with the blessing of other American workers. (PATCO, anyone?) One by one the other major unions would begin to topple.
"They won't tolerate a highly-paid workforce with as much excess income as we have now. By the time you're 40 (which was in in 1986 when I wrote this column), you'll see people standing in bread lines (now, called soup kitchens) again and if you're fortunate enough to be working, you'll be making close to minimum wage. It will take most of your income to pay for the basics - food, shelter, transportation."
Step Three. Breaking labor would be following by dispossessing the family farmer. Dad didn't think both things would happen at once because, They couldn't take a chance that labor and the farmers, typically somewhat adversarial, would align as allies.
"By the end of the century," he told me, "the small farmer will be on his knees. If he's still farming, he'll be nothing more than a tenant to the banks."
In conjunction with the others, Step Four would consist of encouragement by the government of more and more installment debt with less and less savings. Dad thought the Communists were stupid to rule their people through repression when they could convince people to give up their freedom voluntarily by extending them unlimited credit.
I remember him saying, "when a man is ass over elbows in debt, he can't go on strike for better wages, he can't protest, he can't quit, because he needs his paycheck to keep his creditors off his back."
About the time, these other events were taking place, Dad thought businesses would begin to stress the thinking of thoughts rather than the making of things as the key to the country's economy. There would be few good jobs for young men who got out of high school and started a family. The vast middle class workforce, our former economic backbone, would become superfluous.
"Wait and see," Dad said, "by this time, you'll see that the same group of men are on the boards of directors of all the largest corporations."
Lastly, would be Step Six. "When you see the insurance companies come from behind the scenes in a naked power grab, you'll know it's almost over. If you haven't protected yourself by then, my girl, you'll be in a world of trouble."
An eccentric man, my father. I wish I'd paid more attention to him when I had the chance.