Thursday, September 06, 2007

We Gonna Party Like It's 1929

Bumper sticker for sale at:
Your Demon is today pondering the question why, when a recent report by the U.S. Census Bureau found that the gap between rich & poor grows, indeed yawns, between poles that have been forced ever-increasingly apart by the Bush State's aversion to doing anything for "the little people" out there until an un-ignorable disaster looms ~ & then fronting proposals that were originally Democrats' ideas (i.e., amending rules that allow federal agencies to intercede before home foreclosure & refinance at fixed rates, with a little "punishing GOP-Daddy-magic" thrown in more lately, as here: ~), most Americans don't seem to be very hot & bothered by it, although it is in truth just one of many examples of unbridled rapacious cannibal-capitalism we've witnessed during the Bush years, especially in the energy industry.
Leaving aside the fact that not many people who don't have Bushco's ear aren't likely to have the media's either, your Demon muses that it's we "little people" who are sometimes our own worst enemies in that we continue to buy into economic theories that are invisible to us, not least because we don't know or care much about our own country's history in that regard, & in other ways do our best to ignore other things we're too busy working our arses off trying to attain or sustain: we don't have an economy that supports, broadly, a "middle class" lifestyle anymore, thanks to union-busting, outsourcing, offshore tax havens, & our stupidity as voters in turning our power over to politicians who downsize government programs & services even while they're happy to take our tax money.
Similarly, talk of "class" in American politix seems to go nowhere. Why? Because we think that "class distinctions" don't, & never have, applied to us. Individualism is our secular religion, & that, in fact, has been turned against us. "Up by the bootstraps" is no longer a viable economic policy in an age where one can barely graduate from college (a basic necessity to earning a halfway decent living, unlike the days when an apprenticeship served the same purpose) without being swamped in consumer debt.
Sometimes it takes an outsider's perspective to knit some of the pieces together, as in this article by Gary Younge in The Guardian, a UK paper, keeping in mind that the Old World might indeed have something instructive to say to the New:
"There are moments when things really are the way they seem and facts really do speak for themselves. Bad as the facts may appear, attempting to rationalise them only makes matters worse. Trying to convince people otherwise only insults their intelligence.
"So it would have seemed last Tuesday when the US census bureau revealed its latest findings on income, poverty and health. The report showed that since George Bush came to power the poverty rate had risen by 9%, the number of people without health insurance had risen by 12%, and real median household income had remained stagnant. On the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina we learned the racial disparity in income and the gap between rich and poor show no sign of abating.
"Bush declared himself 'pleased' with the results, even if the uninsured presented 'a challenge'. He pointed out that over the past year poverty had declined (albeit by a fraction, and from the previous high he had presided over) and median household income had increased (albeit by a fraction and primarily because more people were working longer hours). Maybe he thought Americans would not realise that five years into a 'recovery' their wages were stagnant, their homes were being repossessed at a rate not seen since the Depression, and their pension funds were on a roller coaster.
"Having beckoned ordinary Americans with the lure of cheap credit and stock market gains, the invisible hand of the market has now grabbed them by the scruff of the neck and is shaking them mercilessly.
"Iraq has, quite rightly, dominated the national conversation and will dominate Bush's legacy. But that doesn't mean it will necessarily be the chief concern for voters choosing their next president. In this week that officially kicks off the presidential primary season, sexual scandal is not the only issue to remind us of the Clinton era. In 1991 Clinton's chief strategist pinned a note on the wall of his campaign headquarters to remind the team of its core message: 'the economy, stupid'.
"A similar focus may once again be necessary, although translating that maxim into votes is not straightforward. Paradoxically, the states with the highest levels of poverty and lowest incomes are staunchly Republican. Poor people tend not to vote, and candidates tend neither to appeal nor refer to them. However, economically they are a glaring and shameful fact of American life; socially and culturally they dominate the centre of almost every moral panic - but politically they do not exist.
"None the less, in recent years the conditions associated with poverty have spread far beyond the poor. Almost two-thirds of those who lost their health insurance last year earn $75,000 or more. Homeowners are also not so easy to write off, not least because those hardest hit happen to be in politically sensitive areas. Of the 10 states that have suffered the most from foreclosures, six - Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, Florida, Ohio and Michigan - are swing states.
"Among the viable Democratic contenders, John Edwards has embraced the economic agenda most forcefully. In his stump speech he calls for reversing Bush's tax cuts for those earning more than $200,000 a year, cutting poverty by a third in 10 years and eliminating it altogether in 30. Having announced his candidacy from New Orleans he has walked many a picket line in recent months and tells crowds: 'The organised labour movement is the greatest anti-poverty movement in American history.' With the brooding resentment at growing insecurity now reaching a critical point, Obama and Hillary are also shifting their focus.

"Sadly it is unlikely this resentment will gain much in the way of political expression beyond populist rhetoric. The notions of personal reinvention and economic meritocracy that lie at the heart of the American dream are far more powerful and enduring than the kind of class consciousness necessary to redress the imbalance between rich and poor. Inequality of wealth in the US has long been justified on the grounds that there is equality of opportunity. The trouble is that while inequalities have grown dramatically over the past 20 years, equality of opportunity has been all but eroded.
"According to the Economic Policy Institute, in 1989 American CEOs earned 71 times more than the average worker - today, by most calculations, it is up to around 270 times. Meanwhile, social mobility has slowed to a level below that in most of Europe, including Britain.
"Most Americans identify themselves as 'middle class' - but in the middle of what is not clear. Anything that would identify working people as a group with a collective set of interests that are different from and at times antagonistic to the interests of corporations has pretty much been erased from public discourse. People will refer to 'blue collar workers', 'working families', 'the poor', the 'working poor'. But the working class simply does not exist.
"None the less, class does play a role. It is most often used by the right to cast liberals as cultural 'elites'. The price of Edwards's haircut, John Kerry's windsurfing, Al Gore's earth tones - all are exploited as illustrations of the effete mannerisms of those who claim to speak for the common man and woman. Class is not elevated to politics but reduced to performance: that is how the fact that Bush has made so little of his elite upbringing has become an asset.
"The conservative columnist Cal Thomas said of Edwards: 'His populist jargon is nothing but class warfare.' If only. Long ago the wealthy declared war on the poor in this country. The poor have yet to fight back."
But that's an unknowable future, folks ~ in the meantime, the neo-populists among us only hope the privileged wealthy elite will continue to party like it's not 1929 yet.

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Blogger BigAssBelle said...

it is outrageous that we read this kind of thing only on the internet and in the newspapers of countries that still have a free press.

i have another theory as to why we continue to do nothing for the poor and middle class: no one wants to admit to being poor or middle class, and those groups are pretty universally despised.

everything in our country moves us toward attempting to appear to have great wealth. that the appearance ~ the house, car, clothes, schools, whatever ~ is funded by credit is of little consequence. it is a consumer society gone off the rails and with a president who responds to 9/11 by telling us to go fucking shopping, it's not surprising.

the savings rate in this country is, essentially, zero. if you consider the amounts of money spent on credit, it's probably at a negative number.

we have lost our manufacturing base, unions have been devastated, corporate america gets tax benefits to move jobs elsewhere. i keep wondering how, in the end, we're supposed to keep consuming new products when we are running out of money??

i have stepped out of the madness, avoiding all but the most necessary purchases, saving every penny i can, eliminating debt as quickly as possible. i don't want to play anymore. it is a sickness, this culture of consumption, and it's not doing us any good on any level.

thanks for this post.

7:52 PM  
Blogger Demon Princess said...

I think you're right, BAB!

We're at the point where we've recognized that we're drowning in our own waste, too, thanks to unsustainable consumption habits, but we somehow think something magic is gonna happen & pull us out of it, as opposed to the few of us who have realized that we all we can control right now is our own behavior.

You're absolutely correct that nobody in the U.S. wants to be seen as poor, those universally despised persons, who are somehow contagious, yet! I've long been screaming at the top of my lungs that the most damaging of the domestic policies Bushco has pursued is one that amounts to extreme social engineering. People don't want to see it, even as they fall into it. We got too comfortable with thinking that social services for "poor" & "working class" people were costing the taxpayers too much, & we let whatever services were at one time in place get starved to death, because we couldn't identify. We won't notice until we, too, are in a place to need them, & find that the only affordable place to live is in a cardboard box under a freeway overpass.

Can't happen here, in the richest industrial nation ever!

That's why I tend to pay attention to what citizens of other countries who have confronted the same problems have to say about it.

Thanks for taking the time to read & comment.

8:42 PM  
Blogger sumo said...

I too do my part to only purchase what I have to. Food and gas. I'm afraid that the shoes will have to look worn...and I never was into purses either...I never have my hair done...because I just leave it long and do whatever with it. My clothes will last longer...I've never been a clothes horse anyway. I probably look a fright though...but I don't care.

12:52 AM  

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