Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It's More Than Just Languid Indifference

I've been fretting over the languid indifference of Our Rulers to the plight of the masses for years. Since the start of the Endless Recession, millions upon millions of Americans have been forced out of their jobs, out of their homes, and directly into poverty. The attitude of the Ruling Class to this nightmare situation for ever more millions of Americans has been, "Tough luck, suckers, it could be worse, you know." And that's when they're being charitable. Nothing else.

As the unemployment statistics continue month after month to be horrendous, as ordinary workers' incomes fall -- or cease altogether -- as opportunity vanishes, as cutback after cutback ripples through every level of government (except the Federal, but I'll get to that eventually), as home foreclosures cascade over and over again, and as top level fraud continues to be rewarded, Our Rulers have essentially followed the Hooverite dictum of Larry Summers: "There's nothing to be done about it."

I have pointed out that Barack Obama is the grandson of a bank vice president, who essentially raised him, and it is clear as crystal to me that he has a Banker's Heart. Like this one in front of the B of A building in San Francisco. It looks more like a liver.

Bankers and Hooverites believe sincerely -- and idiotically -- that in a recession, the preferred economic policy is to provide a "cushion" for those at the Top and let everyone else sink or swim. Suckers. That's how they are. Americans should know this from bitter (and repeated) experience, but for some reason they've forgotten.

Their unfocused anxiety and occasional outbursts of rage are being captured and utilized by the TeaBagger masterminds -- the Kochs, the Armeys, the Russos, the Palins, the Becks and the rest -- to foster a New Paradigm in which the Rulership by those at the Top is reinforced, accountability for those at the Top is eliminated (except if they are Democrats; Democrats and Liberals are to be scapegoated), and conditions for the masses are to be made increasingly harsh and untenable.

A couple of things have come up over the last few days that have helped to illuminate what's been going on. Chris Hedges has put together a talk and some literature that explores his theories of the Death of the Liberal Class, and David Cay Johnston brings out the statistics of income collapse for the masses, contrasted with the enormous increases of income for those at the very top of the pyramid throughout this Endless Recession.

In Hedges' truly dark view, the "Liberal Class" has failed, utterly, and our future -- such as it may be -- is bleak if not entirely absent. Hedges refers in his recent column that expands on some of the ideas in his talk to the "collapse of liberalism," the "bankruptcy of liberal institutions," and the indifference of the liberal elite to the rage and plight of the masses, and I can't disagree with him. I've been saying many of the same things myself for years. All of our main institutions failed during the Bushevik Regime, and now, many of those same institutions are collapsing. Want to know what our future could look like? It could look like Haiti, and that is only slightly hyperbolic.

The current cholera epidemic in Haiti is symptomatic of the failure and collapse of what little remained of Haiti's institutional infrastructure after the earthquake, and it demonstrates how plethoras of "helping organizations," the infamous NGOs that infest Haiti like a plague of locusts, are incapable of handling even the most predictable crises. There was no anti-cholera medication in Haiti prior to the outbreak, and the infamous "helping organizations" had to "scramble" to find some once the epidemic took hold and thousands sickened and dozens or hundreds died. And then they had to organize clinics, provide inadequate medications, try to find ways to care for the increasing numbers of patients, collect and dispose of the dead, and on and on, while simultaneously organizing other efforts to provide some clean water for some areas so as to limit and if possible control the outbreak... the mind boggles. Cholera was a predictable consequence of the conditions the earthquake survivors for forced to live under because the NGOs (and the sorry excuse for what passes for a Haitian "government") couldn't and can't deal with the reconstruction, nor with the basic needs of the refugees. There are hundreds of NGOs all with their own territorial imperatives, and the upshot of all this "helping" is failure and paralysis -- and ultimately death.

That's where we are headed, as our institutional infrastructure collapses and to the extent it is replaced at all, it is replaced by ad hoc "helping organizations," each with a territorial imperative, and each primarily focused on its own survival and the incomes of its leaders -- in order that it may continue to "help."

Hedges, being the son of a preacher man and having attended seminary himself, prior to his journalist career, sees the collapse of liberal institutions in even starker terms than I do. Their failure is complete. And he has little sympathy for the liberal elites that engineered the collapse of their own institutions. Nor is he particularly sympathetic to the generally passive American People who have let this collapse occur. I have a little more sympathy, but I am just as frustrated as he is.

David Cay Johnston uses some interesting statistical information from the Social Security Administration to chart part of the collapse, that of the decreasing income of the working and middle classes, while the incomes of those at the very top... skyrockets.

While many of us have long been aware of the maldistribution of income in this country, and some of us are aware that incomes for many workers have been flat or falling for years, accurate statistics have been hard to come by. Though the data are collected by various government and private interests, little of it is reported in the major mass media, and what is reported tends to be couched in terms that make the situation seem not as bad as it is. David Cay Johnston points out it's actually MUCH worse.

Only 150.9 million Americans reported any wage income in 2009. That put us below 2005, when 151.6 million Americans reported wages, and only slightly ahead of 2004, when 149.4 million Americans held at least one paying job.

For those who did find work in 2009, the average wage slipped to $39,269, down $243 or 0.6 percent, compared with the previous year in 2009 dollars.

The median wage declined by the same ratio, down $159 to $26,261, meaning half of all workers made $505 a week or less. Significantly, the 2009 median wage was $37 less than in 2000.

To give this some perspective, from 1992 to 2000 the number of people earning any wages grew by 21 million, but nine years later just 2.8 million more people had any work.

These wage data, based on the Medicare flat tax on all compensation, tell us only about the number of people who earned wages and how much. They tell us nothing about whether these individuals were underemployed, had to work more than one job, earned fringe benefits, or were employed at a level commensurate with their abilities.

But they do give us a stunning picture of what’s happening at the very top of the compensation ladder in America.

The number of Americans making $50 million or more, the top income category in the data, fell from 131 in 2008 to 74 last year. But that’s only part of the story.

The average wage in this top category increased from $91.2 million in 2008 to an astonishing $518.8 million in 2009. That’s nearly $10 million in weekly pay!

You read that right. In the Great Recession year of 2009 (officially just the first half of the year), the average pay of the very highest-income Americans was more than five times their average wages and bonuses in 2008. And even though their numbers shrank by 43 percent, this group’s total compensation was 3.2 times larger in 2009 than in 2008, accounting for 0.6 percent of all pay. These 74 people made as much as the 19 million lowest-paid people in America, who constitute one in every eight workers.

In other words, at best, workers are barely treading water in today's economy, and a lot of them are drowning without a life preserver.

On the other hand, a relative handful of multimillionaires/billionaires have seen their incomes increase during the Endless Recession fivefold. Is it any wonder the "recovery" is only at the Top?

Americans of course understand that things just aren't right with the economy, and they may even have some sense that their Betters are continuing to make out like bandits at the expense of everyone else. But with only 80% or less of the working and middle classes fully employed, there is a strong tendency for workers to keep their heads down and their noses to the grindstone in this economy. Make too much of a fuss (or in some cases any fuss at all) about economic conditions, and you can be the next one out on the street, facing foreclosure, bankruptcy and worse. And if you are of a certain age, you might have no chance of ever being gainfully employed again.

This is a big reason why people continue to vote against their own interests, and why Our Rulers continue to get away with the crap they do.

When it comes to stark matters of survival, people do what they have to do. Or what they think they have to do.

Correcting this situation -- if it can be corrected -- is going to take more than just getting hold of the information, though that helps (but unfortunately, the links to the charts in David Cay Johnston's piece don't work). Doing something about it is the hardest thing, and Americans are not yet ready to do what it takes.

In the meantime, Our Rulers will do what they do, continue on the path they've been on, implementing the reversionary Program, and we will continue to vote as if we had any say in the matter.

At some point, though...

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