Charles M. Blow of the New York Times has an interesting piece about the “politics of envy.”
In his New Hampshire victory speech on Tuesday, Romney lambasted his Republican opponents (who have raised real issues about his role at the private equity firm Bain Capital) for following the lead of President Obama, whom he described as a leader who divides us “with the bitter politics of envy.”
The next day on “Today” on NBC, Romney defended the statement, rejecting the notion that there were questions about Wall Street behavior, saying the whole discussion was about class warfare. He even went so far as to suggest that such talk shouldn’t even be openly entertained. When the interviewer asked, “Are there no fair questions about the distribution of wealth without it being seen as envy, though?” Romney responded, “I think it’s fine to talk about those things in quiet rooms and discussions about tax policy and the like.”
Quiet rooms? This isn’t a discussion of Keats in the sumptuously furnished salon of the Earl of Stuffypants. This is a serious issue. As Blow points out, the problem is that we’ve been “too quiet for too long” and I agree with him that if the Occupy movement deserves any praise, it should be for making these issues public and making certain people very uncomfortable.
And it is these people’s “discomfort” that this is all about. They rail about “class warfare” when very real concerns regarding income disparity are raised but are quick to warn voters about the insidious spread of socialism. Please note that the former concern is based on the history of the past 30 years. The latter is based on science fiction.
It’s not that they don’t want to fight a class war. They just don’t want the other classes to defend themselves. Shut up and take it while wondering what the hell happened in the “your quiet room” — before your friends at the bank foreclose on it.
I’ve stated before that Republicans these days sound more like Randians than anything else. However, I’m struck by the level of inconsistency in their beliefs. They have no interest in sacrificing for you but believe you should sacrifice for them. Basically, “one for all and all for us.”
The issue people have with Mitt Romney and Bain Capital (really, who names a company “Bain”?) is not based in “envy” so much as the simple fact that the system didn’t work for them. Should the 1,750 people who lost their jobs at Georgetown Steel applaud Romney’s business acumen in simultaneously doubling Bain’s investment even though Georgetown Steel eventually went bankrupt? The commonly trotted out excuse that Romney and his supporters give is that Bain’s actions “saved” other jobs, but this doesn’t mean much for the people whose jobs weren’t saved. Isn’t that “cold comfort” closer to the “socialism” Republicans revile? Putting the interests of others and of the “corporate state” over their own? How is that in their “rational self-interest”?
I’ve been in the position of having to fire employees whose jobs were being sent elsewhere. The HR talking points I was given had a section regarding how this “decision was not taken lightly” and would “benefit the company as a whole, by allowing it to remain competitive.” I refused to repeat this nonsense — pointing out that even if these statements were true, why should the terminated employee care? The only reason to try to reassure him that the company doesn’t “like” firing people is to avoid negative PR and only serves the company’s interests — from the employee’s perspective, the motivation doesn’t change the end result. And why should he care about the health of the “corporate state” once he’s been expelled from it? It’s not like he has stock in the company that will generate revenue for him even if he no longer earns a salary.
Hostess pulled the same shenanigans when it announced its latest bankruptcy.
In a court document explaining how the company got into this mess, Hostess largely pins the blame on its labor costs, as well as increased competition, poor financial performance and excessive levels of debt. Hostess also says the company didn’t do enough to fix itself during a lengthy prior stint in bankruptcy protection less than a decade ago.
Hostess said it does not “have a competitive cost structure and cannot achieve viability on a long-term sustainable basis,” according to its court filing. ”The company obtained only modest concessions relating to health and welfare, as well as inflexible requirements under their collective bargaining agreements relating to work rules,” Hostess says in its court filing, which says the company and its employees have 372 separate labor agreements.
“Modest concessions” relating to “health and welfare”? So, apparently it’s the unionized labor’s fault for not allowing management to create a more efficient plantation-style model in which they sacrifice for the company’s long-term profit and benefit. Their employees’ well-being seems to mean little to the company so why should the employees be all that concerned about the company?
Why is rational self-interest so selective in this country? Millionaires paying more in taxes is an unfair burden. It’s wealth redistribution. But unionized labor — even teachers — must “sacrifice” for the sake of the nation.
Is this an example of “some animals are more equal than others”? Whatever the bill of good that’s been sold, Americans are slowly realizing it’s a con. We are either all in this together or we’re not. If “sacrifice” leads to “socialism,” then it’s in working-class people’s best interests to advocate for better pay and better benefits (by “better,” I refer to the distant past prior to the Reagan administration). If you’re one of the countless Americans who don’t have health insurance, you are under no obligation to continue to sacrifice for the corporations that need to deprive you of those benefits to “remain competitive.”
Newt Gingrich argues that raising the minimum wage would lead to unemployment. Suppose he’s right (and I don’t) and companies would have to get by with 10% less employees if working-class wages are increased. Isn’t Comrade Gingrich advocating for a socialist system where you take a pay cut for the benefit of your coworkers and the “state” (your company)? If this is a “merit” society, as Romney likes to say before adding more millions to his children and grandchildren’s trust funds, then the best employees would survive the resulting cuts and have more to show for it. Would the company’s profits suffer if the workforce decreased? Perhaps. But if you’re making minimum wage, the minimum you should care is whether the company keeps the doors open.
It does make you wonder who the real “socialists” are in this country. And why the average Americans fear the “public state” more than the “corporate state,” which as far more power over their lives these days.
You’ll never get rich chasing wealth…
President Obama recently addressed the charges made against him of waging “class warfare” and managed to inadvertently illustrate the growing sickness in American culture.
“This is one of the biggest things I’m going to be pushing back on this year, this notion that this is somehow class warfare, that we’re trying to stir up envy,” Obama said. “Nobody envies rich people, everybody wants to be rich. Everybody aspires to be rich, and everybody understands you’ve got work hard to be successful. That’s the American way.”
The president states that the “American way” is the desire to be “rich.” This in itself is an empty pursuit. I could give Obama the benefit of the doubt and interpret his statement as shorthand for what money can provide — security, health, education, leisure. However, Americans in the Blackberry Age have sacrificed leisure and health for money and status. Education in America is viewed as merely a means to an end to achieve wealth. This is the Trade Schooling of the U.S. from journalism to law. The critical thinking skills learned in school is denigrated as “leftist indoctrination.” The Darwinian nature of the U.S. economy fuels the fear that keeps Americans running on their hamster wheels: We must stockpile enough money to cover our medical expenses if we get ill, and we need enough to maintain our dignity when we get old. We are just as scared and frightened as we were prior to discovering fire. The only difference is we have iPods.
Collectively, how rich are we? We aren’t very rich in the ways that matter, but how do we do on paper at least? The median household income in the United States in 2010 was $49,445. Charles M. Blow of The New York Times recently described the American sleight of hand involved when defining what it means to be “rich.”
…according to a December Gallup report, Americans set the rich threshold at $150,000 in annual income. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau 8.4 percent of households had an income of $150,000 or more in 2010.
…according to a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last month, nearly a fifth of families making less than $15,000 said that they were middle class and nearly two-fifths of those making more than $100,000 said that they were middle class.
In certain ways, no one wants to be rich or poor. Denying the latter makes sense. It’s why bald men still buy Rogaine. However, I think no one wants to consider themselves “rich” because America views itself as the land of the middle class. The rich are the “elites” in New York, D.C., and California. “Rich” also has the connotation of unearned money. This is why you’ll often hear, “We’re not rich. We worked hard for what we have.”
On an emotional level, though, I think many Americans don’t feel “rich” because they don’t feel secure. The politicians who want to keep Americans on their hamster wheels find it increasingly necessary to knock other countries whose citizens do feel more secure. Canada took a rhetorical beating during the initial debates regarding the Affordable Health Care Act. Mitt Romney frequently derides Europe when warning voters about what Obama plans to do the U.S. This is interesting upon reflection — the Kenyan Muslim wants to make America more like the land of our (well, not really mine) forefathers. It’s almost flattering: Conservatives would never have accused Jesse Jackson of Eurocentrism 30 years ago.
Let’s examine this “European socialist welfare state” of Romney’s nightmares: The average salary in the European Union is 38,000 Euros, which based on the exchange rate roughly equals the U.S. average. Europe has economic woes — as does the U.S. The conservative spin is that Europe’s social programs are to blame, but the trail of blood leads to the same butler who killed the U.S. economy — shady banks and toxic assets. Romney can’t be bothered to explain how that relates to how the government uses its tax dollars. Most Europeans enjoy universal health care and free education. These are two areas that cause Americans a great deal of concern. As both grow more expensive, Americans continue to burn rubber on their hamster wheels.
The misinformation that Romney and others spread about Europe compared to the U.S. probably serves its purpose. My own admittedly biased experience is that people seem far happier there than here, where the resentment and fear produce the malignant growth known as FOX News. Europeans are less contentious about religion and value education. They do lack the “American dream,” which as a conservative acquaintance explained is the lack of a “new car” or “vacation home.” Even if this were true, when did the American dream no longer mean freedom but instead meaningless status symbols?
Keep those hamster wheels running. Don’t you feel richer all ready?
Posted by Stephen Robinson on February 5, 2012 in Capitalism, Political Theatre, Social Commentary
Tags: Barack Obama, Charles M. Blow, class warfare