March 21, 2003


History Repeats Itself

If society ignores the past someone will get hurt

By Rodolfo F. Acuna

Non-historians like to come up with cliches such as “history repeats itself,” which is never really the case.

Times change.

Nevertheless, the notion is valuable in at least alerting people to the probability that if society ignores the past, someone will get hurt. For example, an examination of the famous 1929 Stock Market crash shows that the conditions and the depression are similar to those of today. In both instances robber barons manipulated the so-called free market, bringing untold misery to millions Americans and other citizens of the world.

The historical memory of the generations that followed checked a complete return to excesses of the pre-market crash era. Similarities would trigger an alarm alert system.

However, time represses painful memories and allows historians and others to distort the role of the robber barons as the cause of the misery. Indeed, robber barons become captains of industry, and it is as if the 1920s never happened and the depression was an aberration.

For the past two decades, the United States has been on a huge binge with our leaders and the media selling the twenties gospel of deregulation, known to President Herbert Hoover as laissez-faire. The gospel according to St. Ronald was that industry could regulate itself. So we should deregulate energy and privatize everything in sight.

But, the scheme began to unravel when the second prophet, St. George, took office. The Enron scandals exposed the worse in an unregulated market. History shows that Enron and its cabal destroyed thousands of documents, misled shareholders and pirated the retirement accounts of its employees. Although the problem was systemic, the media treated it as if it were a matter of a few rotten apples. So, there have been few criminal convictions of corporate executives. Instead, the president continues to preach that we should partially privatize social security so workers can pour money into the coffers of the same corporate crooks who put them out of work.

In California, the oil industry lobbyist wined and dined our elected officials in Sacramento and passed deregulation of electricity. They then manufactured and manipulated a crisis for which they blamed California’s allegedly flawed electricity deregulation plans, the lack of new power-generation capacity, and a drought. Then Enron brokered and bought and sold power in the state, making fantastic profits.

Vice President Dick Cheney admitted that he and Enron CEO Ken Lay discussed the California situation and many pundits say that Bush failed to help California because of the influence of his cronies at Enron.

Who was hurt, the crooks killed no one?

Well, the billions in extra energy costs meant the scaling back of social programs and school personnel for one. Thousands of Californians lost their jobs. And, it is not by accident that the schools’ toilets got dirtier.

If this had happened in the 1950s, all kinds of alarms would have gone off. Many would have remembered the adage that history repeats itself, although we know that it really doesn’t. The similarities would have been so striking that the memories would have alerted people to the possibility of another crash or at least the fact that poor people suffer the most.

In today’s world, very few Americans remember the depression or for that matter care. They forget the horrors of war because most never suffered its casualties. Maybe that is why the French and the Germans oppose the present rush to bomb Iraq.

Americans have cable news that whips them into a frenzy, and Saddam Hussein’s face becomes more familiar than that of Ken Lay who has destroyed more lives than Saddam.

But, to bring it even closer to home: Who are the winners and the losers of the George W. Bush’s preparation for war and his attempt to blur the historical memories of Americans? Whom do his policies and the reductionist behavior of our elected officials hurt?

Bush says that he can pursue this war and still give the rich tax breaks by running up a trillion-dollar deficit. How does this affect us? Well, education is a victim. All of the reforms of the past decade, smaller classes, teacher aides and the like are long past. At a time when we have convinced thousands of Latinos that education is an honorable and stable profession, many of those Latino teachers are going to be laid off or suffer pay reductions, encouraged to find other work.

Presently, the county wants to save money by cutting benefits, raises, and the budgets of the different agencies. Managers at the Los Angeles courts have told court workers that they should take a 20 percent furlough so the courts can save the county money. The furlough or 20 percent cut in pay would not apply to the judges whose salaries are more than $100,000 a year, or the administrators of the courts, or the county supervisors, but they would apply to the clerks and the staff.

In terms of social costs, this would drive many of these workers to the brink of financial ruin, and cause the breakup of families. Like in the schools, the toilets would get even dirtier and so would the quality of justice.

So, what is my point?

Well, maybe our Latino politicos should care a little bit more about history or at least read it. Or, maybe they should break the law and run up a deficit. Bush does it.

The least they should do is start cutting from the top down; a supervisor makes much more than a janitor. The ideal would be for our politicos to show courage and speak out or take a furlough themselves.

Reprinted from

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