Trump and Santorum — Promoting an Economy of Opportunity or Exclusion?

“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills.”—Pope Francis

In an article for the Philadelphia Inquirer, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, a surrogate for Donald Trump (the former being a millionaire and the latter a billionaire), would like you to believe they know the mindset of blue-collar Americans. News flash: They don’t.

Simply put, people like Senator Santorum and Trump know how to exploit blue-collar fear and anger for their personal benefit. They want blue-collar Americans to think that if they work hard enough and government gets out of the way, they can be successful and wealthy just like them. Yet their measure of success, their measure of greatness, isn’t the “American Dream” I know. Santorum and Trump fail to address an economic system that Pope Francis and millions of Catholics increasingly view as exclusionary, exploitative and oppressive.

I was born, raised and still reside in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. My hometown, Levittown, is considered the birthplace of modern suburbia. My father moved from Brooklyn with my grandparents in 1952 and was among the first residents of Levittown. My mom moved to Levittown from Abington soon after in 1955.

Most newcomers to Levittown were buying their first car, television and last but not least, their first house. Back then, the nation’s consumer-driven economy flourished because of the booming automotive and housing industry. Companies like US Steel were the lifeblood of Levittown.

Today, Levittown is still predominately a white, blue-collar community. In the early 1990s, US Steel permanently closed the steel mill, killing thousands of local jobs. If you walk into local bars like Puss N Boots or Marie’s Kozy Korner, you’ll still hear patrons talk about the “good ole days.” If Senator Santorum and Trump walked into the Boot or Korner, I’m sure they’d tell the patrons what they want to hear: that elites, immigrants and globalization stole their jobs.

Certainly would be a compelling story if what Senator Santorum and Trump said was actually true.

As Senator Santorum points out his article, families today are forced to work multiple jobs to make ends meet and the labor participation rate has been dropping. But why exactly is this happening? Some blame Democrats and their call for taxes and regulations while others blame Republicans for their opposition to higher wages and jobs programs. Still others blame both.

My theory for the United States’ current economic woes recognizes that increasingly sophisticated technology is causing supply to far outpace demand. This same technology is causing blue-collar jobs to become near extinct.

To give you an example of my theory, in the book Freedom From Fear, author David M. Kennedy highlights that by the year 1925 a Ford model T rolled off the assembly line every 10 seconds. A decade earlier it would’ve taken 14 hours to assemble the same car.

Over the last few decades, this same level of productivity outlined by Kennedy has been applied to nearly every sector of the economy.

With these groundbreaking advances in technology, 20th century economic thinkers like John Maynard Keynes believed post-industrialized workers would end up working less hours while being able to enjoy life more fully. This didn’t occur because the economic mindset of blind consumerism and the unending pursuit for profit survived into the 21st century.

So how do blue-collar Americans like the individuals in my hometown adjust to this growing economic trend? By following Pope Francis and saying no to an economy of exclusion, exploitation and oppression.

We live in an economy of exclusion when the United States alone wastes $165 billion a year in food (40 percent of total food supply), yet still promotes political ideas aimed at shaming those on food stamps.

We live in an economy of exploitation when young people looking to better themselves and their families are straddled with more than $1.3 trillion in student loan debt.

We live in an economy of oppression when more than 3.5 million Americans, 1.5 million being children, are left homeless while millions of homes remain vacant.

The natural progression of the United States, indeed the very foundation on which our republic was founded, is based on the premise that each generation will do better than the next. The United States’ current economic system is leaving too many people behind. To reconcile this economy of exclusion, exploitation and oppression, blue-collar America needs to follow the example of Pope Francis, not Rick Santorum and Donald Trump, and promote human dignity for all. Doing so will set us on a path to build upon the “American Dream” my family discovered when they moved to Levittown.