By RA Monaco
In her recent piece, “I’m a Member of the ‘American Used-to-Haves,’” Kathleen Ann justifiably lashes out at a disconnected Republican Congress. Her partially misplaced anger faintly masks a struggle to battle the depression that rings through the overtone of her words, “there’s little hope of getting a corporate job with benefits in the future.”
She used to enjoy getting a pedicure and having her hair done. She shopped at department stores and went on vacations. She had a house too.
Like millions of us, Kathleen Ann bought into the implied promise—about going to school and working hard—that is America. She went to a prestigious college and earned a degree that landed her a job in corporate America. She was dedicated. She worked hard putting in extra time when asked, trusting that her hard work and extra effort would be valued and reciprocated—loyalty implied.
These days, Kathleen Ann can’t get a job and describes herself as a member of the American “Used-to-Haves.” She doesn’t get pedicures, no longer shops at department stores or goes on vacations. She doesn’t have a house anymore either. Like so many others, she was in denial while descending toward poverty—she thought it would be over soon. Eventually, she accepted that poverty had arrived.
Now, Kathleen Ann feels lucky to have an apartment that includes utilities. She’s anxiously awaiting a check to pay her rent. She has friends in similar financial circumstances and they’re all terrified about the future—living in poverty as the years slip away. Despite her employment record which she described as “solid,” Kathleen Ann can’t get a job and now feels unemployable.
Every Family has Someone That Can’t Get Back into the Workforce
These day’s every family has someone who was let go from their jobs before reaching retirement and is unable to get back into the workforce—so it seems. It’s become the norm to have family members accepting part-time employment in their desperate struggle to hang on or contribute. Most likely, they’re destined for the ranks of elder poverty.
Nearly three in five baby boomers face a financial bust in retirement if the current economic climate persists, according to a study cited in a 2010 article by the Wall Street Journal. Is there any reason, four years later, to believe that that economic climate won’t persist?
Baby boomers, which make up around 78 million or 25 percent of the total spenders in the U.S., are among the Americans who have had their nest eggs destroyed since 2008. The housing bust decimated the wealth of a majority of baby-boomers whose savings were then largely invested in their homes. Underemployment has sucked up the rest.
So, more than four years after the Great Recession officially ended, there are millions more just like Kathleen Ann—her story is hardly unique.
In the words of author Barbara Garson, “We’ve recovered, we’ve taken your full-time job away and given you a part-time job, and we’ve given the difference to our stockholders.”
Corporate Profits Went Up 25% during the Recession
Here’s some gas to throw on that flame—profit went up 25% for American corporations from the beginning of the recession to its official end in 2009. What? During the recession, while we were losing our jobs and houses and bailing out AIG, banks and Wall Street, profits went up 25%?
At the outset, I referenced Kathleen Ann’s “partially misplaced anger”—here’s what I meant. The systemic financial corruption on Wall Street and the illicit financial flows of transnational corporations that divert profits to tax havens immensely benefits both Republicans and Democrats. They are clients or patrons of both parties.
It was US President Benjamin Franklin who said, “In this world nothing is certain but death and taxes.” How times have changed for the 1%. The economic elite may not have found a way to cheat death yet, but they’ve surely avoided paying their fair share in taxes—all with the assistance of an elected government that operates on “self–service” not “public-service.”
Too Much Political Cooperation
These “profiteers” continue to function with Executive and Congressional authority and far too much cooperation across our entire political spectrum. Politicians seeking office no longer talk about plans, change or ideas—they’re sole concern, is how much money their opponent has raised.
Realistically, if one party breaks rank, it would lose a substantial amount of contributions and effectively cede the election to their opponent. So, to the chagrin of current American partisanship, the solution remains outside the electoral politics of both Democrats and Republicans.
Our solution this time, according to Barbara Garson may likely be a socialist system or some hybrid. Despite the fact that there are capitalist solutions, Garson explains in her book, “Down the Up Escalator How the 99% Live,” capitalist’s aren’t about to agree to a redistribution as they did in the 1870’s and 1930’s. "They’re taking the same attitude toward the economy that they’re taking toward climate change."
Does “Free-Enterprise” Mean “Free” Without Social Responsibility
Today, people can’t buy back what they produce and instead of paying people so that they can buy what they produce, they’re still lending money to buy what we can’t afford—nothing has changed, it’s only consolidated and become worse.
Should “free-enterprise” mean “free” without social responsibility? That was the question that fueled Occupy Wall Street (OWS). I agree that OWS was a great first act because it ignited a public awakening that our social resources have been captured by a financial oligarchy.
Access to our market shouldn’t mean without social responsibility when it is our government—that protects their property, money and enforces their contracts. Corruption has been legalized and it’s morally wrong that we should pay for the handcuffs that shackle our lives and our future.
What we’ve learned since OWS is that most of our political class is unwilling to stand up to their funders and do the tough work to clean up their back yard for the American people. Somehow, they’ve deceived themselves into believing Americans don’t see through their partisan distractions.
“Profiteers” Have Circled the Wagons
Our political classes together with these “profiteers” have circled the wagons—my mind flashes back to May 2012 when, at the last minute, they moved the G8 conference to Camp David and the NATO Summit in Chicago was invaded by a disguised militarized force never before seen on domestic soil. They fear profound political and social instability.
What’s boiling below this widely acknowledged fear is a global public awakening--a dangerous threat that undermines democratic governance, according to the recently published “Global Risks Report 2014” by The World Economic Forum.
Ten Global Risks of Highest Concern in 2014
1. Fiscal crises in key economies
2. Structurally high unemployment/underemployment
3. Water crises
4. Severe income disparity
5. Failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation
6. Greater incidence of extreme weather events (e.g. floods, storms, fires)
7. Global governance failure
8. Food crises
9. Failure of a major financial mechanism/institution
10. Profound political and social instability
It’s no small wonder that Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address that, “dangerous and growing inequality is the defining challenge of our time”—he meant it.
In the US, the gap between rich and poor has grown faster than in any other developed country. The top one percent has captured 95 percent of all growth since the putative "recovery" of 2009.
Alternative Structures Might Be Possible
Beyond just talk of morally questionable inequality, we haven’t seen and aren’t seeing, any real willingness on the part of our political class to stand up for the American people. That reality, should lead us to question our current form of democracy and consider a more direct form of self-governance —one made viable by today’s technology.
It’s time we recognize what is not possible in our current political-economic structures and begin to consider what alternative structures might be possible particularly with the use of technologies like Twitter, for example, that eviscerate geographical barriers.
Reconsider the Lippmann-Dewey debate of the 1920’s and, for a moment, what technology might mean for direct democracy.
Walter Lippmann advanced the idea that most people, no matter how well educated, were open to manipulation. "A Public which directs the course of events" was a practical impossibility, he claimed, and the idea of democracy was therefore a "mystical fallacy."
On the other hand, John Dewey strenuously disagreed with that view. While he conceded the empirical accuracy of Lippmann’s account of modern-day public opinion, and praised the democratic realists for exposing the shortcomings of democratic government and the bewilderment of the ordinary citizen, he rejected the elitist solutions offered in response.
Bringing people under control in a civic self-determination in the name of an efficient government wasn’t consistent with true democracy, in Dewey’s mind.
In short, they couldn’t explore solutions in 1927 that democratized information has since made possible through the use of technology.
Political Innovation More Urgent Than Ever
Political innovation has become more urgent than ever, particularly given the “highest concerns” of the World Economic Forum and the increasing citizen outrage in America. More specifically, social media technology may have also made citizen outrage and political innovation ever more likely—we can only hope.