The return of the sharecropper state

To the Editor:

When Reconstruction came to the South after the Civil War, big plantations were worked by nearly destitute farmers for a share of what their labor produced. They got enough to live on — barely — but the lion’s share of the produce went to the landowner. Farmers were intentionally kept poor, and this form of economic servitude lasted until the South became industrialized. 

Now can it be that North Carolina is trending back to a modern form of sharecropper economy? Disturbing indicators coming from the new administration in Raleigh point to a small, wealthy segment of the population controlling a larger, economically depressed population. Consider recent legislation designed to widen the separation between the wealthy and working man:

 Education — Reductions by the Republican legislature in per capita spending on public education has put North Carolina in the cellar, on a par with Mississippi where the schools are often so poor that employers have to retrain graduates on simple skills, in what are called “learning laboratories.” As has been proven for decades, a progressive school system graduates enlightened, capable students. However, the Mississippi case proves the reverse is also true. Dumbing down public education produces students who don’t know how to read a ruler, limiting them to menial jobs only. On the other hand, the legislature is working to build up private secondary schools, those that require substantial tuition to attend. Whose children do you think are going to be able to pay these high tuition costs? If this comes to pass, wealthy kids will do calculus; poor kids will be stuck with arithmetic … if even that. 

Massive jump in the number of sales tax items — Taking 4.75 percent out of the pocket of a millionaire for a purchase is chump change. But when you take 4.75 percent out of the pocket of someone who makes $10 an hour, it’s a big bite. Thus, when the Republican administration lowered the income tax to favor the rich and boosted the numbers of items by over 130 on which to impose sales tax, they swung the burden of paying for state services onto the middle and low-income people. 

Unemployment — To have a workforce available to work low-paying jobs, it is necessary that they stay hungry and under-employed. The drastic cut in unemployment benefits by the Republican administration in Raleigh effectively does just that: keeps wage earners desperate for any work they can get. 

Voting — In the legislature, 108 members don’t want elderly, Black, Hispanic, or working people to vote — because the fear that these voters would not vote for them. They are probably right, but it doesn’t mean that a restrictive voter identification law is the right thing to do. The spirit of democracy demands that everyone who is eligible to vote be encouraged to do so. The mandatory voter ID law passed by the Republican legislature is a pointless hurdle to be overcome by would-be voters and smacks of the old poll tax that was used to suppress the Black vote in North Carolina. Also, they have shortened the early voting period and eliminated on-site registration. What the Gang of 108 is saying is that if you are not with them, they don’t want you to vote. Remember, voting is power. The Gang of 108 wants to keep the power to themselves, the rest of us on the outside looking in. 

Healthcare — The Affordable Care Act will reduce health insurance premiums for working people by 25 to 50 percent, and ensure that they get timely health care, not desperation health care at emergency rooms. But, our elected Republican leaders in Raleigh have turned their backs on this extraordinary benefit from Washington. So, those of us who have been health care poor will stay health care poor. 

It’s clear that the Republican-led legislature in Raleigh is taking North Carolina toward a new plantation mentality, where the wealthy and empowered decide what share of the economic crop the rest of us can have. In the old days after the Civil War, it was “40 acres and a mule.” Are you ready for the 21st Century version? 

Rick Bryson 

Bryson City

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