Sunday, July 08, 2012

Don't Get Uppity. Remember Your Place.

These are hard times for the honest man and they may get a lot harder yet.

There's a societal sort of continental drift underway.   Our once cohesive, strong society is ever so slowly but nonetheless steadily being divided, separating.   This is apparent, in part, from the growing gap between rich and poor.   It is manifested in the decline in equality - of wealth, of income and, most importantly, of opportunity, the latter evidenced by such things as the weakening of our healthcare and public education systems.   The ladders of social mobility are being withdrawn.

What is emerging in their place?  A nominal, two-tier society made up of the Plutonomy and the Precariat and the chances are very, very good you're in the Precariat even if you don't recognize it.

Noam Chomsky was inspired by a CitiGroup brochure circulated in 2005 heralding the arrival of the Plutonomy and by then Federal Reserve Board chairman Alan Greenspan's remarks concerning the Precariat.

"In 2005, Citigroup came out with a brochure for investors called “Plutonomy: Buying Luxury, Explaining Global Imbalances.” It urged investors to put money into a “plutonomy index.” The brochure says, “The World is dividing into two blocs -- the Plutonomy and the rest.”

"Plutonomy refers to the rich, those who buy luxury goods and so on, and that’s where the action is. They claimed that their plutonomy index was way outperforming the stock market. As for the rest, we set them adrift. We don’t really care about them. We don’t really need them. They have to be around to provide a powerful state, which will protect us and bail us out when we get into trouble, but other than that they essentially have no function. These days they’re sometimes called the “precariat” -- people who live a precarious existence at the periphery of society. Only it’s not the periphery anymore. It’s becoming a very substantial part of society in the United States and indeed elsewhere. And this is considered a good thing.

"So, for example, Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, at the time when he was still “Saint Alan” -- hailed by the economics profession as one of the greatest economists of all time (this was before the crash for which he was substantially responsible) -- was testifying to Congress in the Clinton years, and he explained the wonders of the great economy that he was supervising. He said a lot of its success was based substantially on what he called “growing worker insecurity.” If working people are insecure, if they’re part of the precariat, living precarious existences, they’re not going to make demands, they’re not going to try to get better wages, they won’t get improved benefits. We can kick ’em out, if we don’t need ’em. And that’s what’s called a “healthy” economy, technically speaking. And he was highly praised for this, greatly admired."

Take your pick - Stiglitz, Krugman, Robert Reich, Wilkinson & Pickett, the list goes on and on.  Any of them will explain to you the utter scourge that inequality inflicts on our societies.   The bottom line is that there is underway an enormous transfer of wealth and, with it, political power from the great many to the very, very few or, as the Occupy movement puts it, from the 99% to the 1%.   And the most important thing to remember is that this is a continuing process.  It's not over yet.  You can't breathe a sigh of relief and assure yourself that you're okay, you made it.

Think Chesley Sullenberger, the U.S. Airways pilot who brought his crew and passengers to a safe forced landing on the Hudson River.   Think he's not of the Precariat?   Think again.   Before he left U.S. Airways in 2010, his salary had been cut a massive 40% and his pension was lost, forfeited in an airline restructuring.   So much for the American Dream.   Today's fledgling airline pilots may work for less than a Starbuck's barrista's takehome pay and put in ridiculous, potentially hazardous hours to boot.

Although Canada trails well behind the United States on the inequality index we are trending in the same direction and we, all of us, face similar outcomes especially for our kids and grandchildren.  Indeed, one of the reasons we're still getting by fairly comfortably today, is because we're acquiescing in the looting of our kids' and grandchildren's future.  We're piling up mountains of debt in various species for them to pay down - fiscal, environmental, even societal.   Yet we're also undermining their future ability to meet the burdens we bequeath them.

We have to fight back and that begins by reversing the last three decades of inequality.   We have to collect what's due from the rich.   We have to recover that wealth and invest it in rebuilding our nation for today's young and the generations to come.   The free ride has to be over not just for the rich and the multinationals but for the rest of us too.   We can't have it all, nobody can, because that won't leave anything but a crappy deal for those who follow us.

I doubt it was accident that saw the oligarchs divide the middle class, taking the upper middle class into their camp.   After all, with a gaping chasm dividing the "haves" from the "have nots" who wouldn't want to be safely on the side of the "haves"?   Did I say "safely"?  There's the thing.

Inequality is fueled by illusion.    It requires a lot of people of some means thinking they're far better off than they are, believing their prospects are far grander than they are.   The elite, the 1%, need the next 20% to support them in order to extend the advantages they derive from inequality.   Yet we know that 20% is misled.   Stiglitz will tell you, so will Reich.   Wilkinson and Pickett will show you their empirical evidence, their science.   Inequality serves only the 1%.   Everyone else, including the top quartile, do better in more equal societies.  That's right, equality benefits the wealthy just as it does the middle and the poor.   That's because it's the middle - the middle class - that is the engine of our economies, not the rentier class, the 1%. 

We have to rebuild healthy levels of equality - in income, in wealth and in opportunity - the lifeblood of a healthy, vibrant, robust and expansive middle class.   Without that, we're sunk and so is Canada.  The 21st century will be extremely challenging to every country.   Canada is blessed with many advantages common to just a handful of countries but they're easily squandered without a determined, cohesive society and we won't have that without restoring our middle class.

So remember your place and remember that your place is in the middle class.

And, as an aside to you Liberals, understand that your party has been instrumental in allowing the spread of inequality in our country.   Yes, Harper is worse but so what?   You are about to select a new leader.   Make sure you choose someone with real vision, someone who will resolutely commit to fighting inequality and the other neglected challenges facing Canada.   No more celebrity leaders.  Remember, in Canadian politics today, you're on the outside looking in.   If you want back in, you'll have to earn it.


thwap said...

I'm trying to organize a Toronto strategy session to collectively do just that. I want to meet real people, face-to-face, not on FaceBook and then go door-to-door convincing Canadians that this is an epochal moment for our democracy.

The Mound of Sound said...

That sounds terrific, Thwap. Bonne Chance, you'll have your work cut out for you. Let me know how it goes. Maybe you can establish a template for others.

Beijing York said...

That CitiBank brochure is a real eye-opener. The 1% don't even try to hide or disguise their contempt for anyone or anything that would impede their wealth generation. It demonstrates how much of a sham the whole trend of Corporate Social Responsibility actually is.

One thing we rarely see examined anymore is the economic profile of shareholders. Back in the early days of the internet, there was a great deal of interest in describing the typical day-trader as an average Joe. It was as if the stock market had been democratized making access to that game much wider. The whole RRSP push was also a way to widen that access and fuel more financial activity with middle class earners investing in sheltered mutual funds. I wonder if anyone is tracking whether there has been a steady decline in such activity as people's earning power has decreased?

Owen Gray said...

Chris Hedges makes a convincing argument that what he calls "the liberal class" has been corrupted by corporatist values.

If the Liberals are to have any future, they will have to remember what "liberal" means.

Anonymous said...

You may want to make a correction. Chesley Sullenberger was a US Airways pilot, not American Airlines.

Anonymous said...

How nice MOS that you are putting forward the stupidity of the Liberals and Cons from the past as well as the stupidity of the present governments in Canada. The 1% speaks loud and clear to those who want the middle class to think the government is running the country on behalf of and for the common person.

The Mound of Sound said...

Anon, I'd respond but I haven't the remotest idea what you're getting at.

Anonymous said...

That's too bad.