Monday, October 29, 2012

Week of 10/29/2012

Living Near Empty
– by David Matthews 2

So… how much gas do you have in your vehicle?

It’s a weird question, I know, but if you think about it, it’s probably a better question to ask when it comes to measuring the economy than anything the politicians and the media will come up with.

The politicians and the media operate under quite a few fallacies when it comes to measuring the economy, and quite frankly, those fallacies have been slowly killing the United States.

For instance, they will assume that Wall Street is synonymous with Main Street.  If Wall Street does great, then Main Street must also be doing great.  If Big Corporate is thriving, then Main Street must be thriving as well.

Basically it’s the corollary to the “Trickle-Down Theory of Economics” that says that as long as those up top are doing great, then the rest of the country should follow.  So for the past ten years we were told that as long as big corporations were posting profits, then the economy should be doing great. 

Never mind that real wages did not keep up with the cost of living.  Never mind that Big Corporate was outsourcing jobs to other countries during that time.  Never mind if consumer spending was done on credit.  Never mind that some of that corporate profit was just on paper through a cleaver series of Rube Goldberg programs held together by force of personality.  Pay no attention to the flim-flam-man behind the curtain; just shut up and give Big Corporate your money and call it a “robust economy”.

Even today, financial institutions and politicians and pundits one and all use whatever barometer they can to get the results that they want.

Unemployment numbers, for instance, have long been manipulated, since they only measure the number of people who are claiming (and receiving) unemployment assistance.  They cannot measure the actual number of people who are out of work and either cannot claim benefits or those that have already exhausted their benefits.  If you’re still getting severance pay, then you don’t count as “unemployed”.  If you applied for unemployment assistance and your claim was denied, then you don’t count as “unemployed”.  If you are on disability, then you are not “unemployed”.

So if you deny more claims and you cut the length of time for those benefits and you disqualify more people, then you will see the “Unemployment Figure” go down. Ta-Da!  “Recovery” without a single job being created!

But people still need to eat.  They still need to pay bills.  They still need a roof over their heads and gas in their cars.  Political sleight-of-hand tricks can’t change those things.  Redefining “job creation” to being “jobs created or saved” instead of actually creating new jobs does nothing to help people get food, pay their bills, keep a roof over their heads, or put gas in their cars.

And what happens when money is tough for us?  We have to cut back on the things we can get.  We don’t go out for movies; we’ll buy the DVD and a bag of microwave popcorn instead.  We don’t get the latest gadget; we’ll make do with what we have or buy it when it is on discount.  We won’t go to the restaurant; we’ll learn to cook or buy microwave meals.

And we don’t fill our gas tanks, do we?  No, we’ll only get as much as we need and as much as we can afford.  If it means driving close to empty, then we’ll do it.  We have no choice.

Now we think that this is just temporary.  We’ll put up with these sacrifices because we believe that it’s just for a little while, and then things will get better.

But what if I were to tell you that this is really “the new normal”?

Many of the jobs that were lost at the start of the Great Recession are gone.  They will never come back.  They are either on the other side of the world or else they have been written off completely.

Our government found it easier to strike a deal with the banks than to hold them to account for the crimes they committed.  Take the “fine” (which is the equivalent of tossing pocket change), agree to some bogus “program” to help those that need it, and then declare the whole matter closed.  But those foreclosed homes are still empty.  Those families that were thrown out of those homes are not going to be getting new homes anytime soon.  Whole neighborhoods are ghost towns.  And those that remain are losing their ever-precious “equity” because of forces beyond their own control.

Jobs that are gone that will never come back.  Homes that are empty and will not be filled, owned by banks that just don’t care about the effects of their actions because they know they can buy their way out of trouble.

And now add to this the predatory philosophy of plunder that Corporate America has embraced.  A philosophy that demands profit at all costs.  A philosophy that demands cutting operations to the bare bones to meet those ever-precious profit margins.  A philosophy that says “you will make do with less and you will like it; and the next time around you will make do with even less than that so long as you give us our precious profits.”

This is what I mean by “the new normal”.  America is being told to make do with less with no end in sight.  There is nothing “temporary” about this “new normal”.  Any prosperity goes to profits first, higher benefits for the top-ranked people second, and the other employees dead last.

And this “new normal” extends to the public sector as well.  State and local governments are obligated to make do with less as there is less and less tax revenue available.  And revenue continues to get bleaker as Corporate America insists on getting more and more tax breaks and more and more leniency from regulatory oversight.

But agencies still need to be funded, right?  Schools still need to be funded so children can learn.  There still need to be police officers and fire fighters and paramedics.  Jails need to be staffed to keep the bad guys locked up.  And they all want to be paid, right?  They still have to have a roof over their heads and food on the table and bills to be paid. 

Someone needs to pay for all that.  And guess who ultimately does?  It’s not Big Corporate; their costs are transferred to their customers as part of their overhead.  When all is said and done, we end up footing the bill for it somehow.  That’s another cost that we have to deal with.

We tell ourselves we’re doing okay, but let’s get brutally honest here… we’re really not.  We’re paddling against a maelstrom, and the maelstrom is winning.  And as long as the people behind the root causes of this maelstrom are allowed to continue unchallenged, our struggle against it will have to continue, or else we succumb to it like so many others have.

And it’s not just in America.  Look at Europe.  Look at the so-called “Austerity” programs being foisted on their citizens.  The same problems there are affecting us here.  And you’ll notice that the source of their misery is also the same.

No amount of political spin from the two dominant political parties can change this.  Political promises don’t put a roof over our heads, food on our tables, money to pay our bills, or put gas in our cars.  That will require a fundamental shift in mindset from the one group that has done everything they can to avoid accountability while reaping all the benefits of our pain.  The very people convincing the politicians and the media that everything is doing just fine, that this is just “temporary”.

And, as you can imagine, those at the top of the heap are the only ones that don’t have to worry about how much gas is in their cars.

No comments: