Monday, February 21, 2011

Lines Drawn In The Sand

This is an Event Horizon for American politics, and it's one that - as Freddie deBoer notes - "reveals the basic character of the people who talk about it". It's no coincidence that the very people who reject and ignore the protests in Wisconsin and Ohio are the exact same as the people who never needed the rights the protesters are fighting for. They are the privileged who assume that their privileges are hard earned and fought for. They are the privileged who assume that your lack of privilege is a result of imperfections in your behavior. And when they dismiss, belittle, and scornfully mock the rightful protests in Wisconsin they reveal themselves as acquiescently servile agents of corporate oppressors. And for no other reason than because they can afford to be.

It doesn't matter whether you belong to a union, or whether you agree with what they say, or whether you buy into their issues, or whether you belong to the upper class yourself. Unions are either historically responsible for your paycheck and benefits, or they're responsible for the people who buy and pay for your products. Advocating their destruction and calling for their end isn't just a clear assault on first amendment rights, it is an assault on the autonomy of the American citizen. Genuine independence cannot be secured without economic independence. Economic independence cannot be secured without livable wages. And livable wages cannot be secured without the ability to politically account for the fairness of your employers. The attempted removal of unions should be seen for precisely what it is: the removal of the American citizen as a political force against corporate dominion. It is not enough for them to have us weakened: we're to be silenced.

In order to grasp their stratagem, you must first think on their terms. The wealthy own 80% of this country's money. After Citizens United and the Chamber of Commerce, politicians are disproportionately dependent on the donations they give to fund campaigns. Lobbyists frequently have the ear of lawmakers. In order to pass something, they have to make sure their political contributors find it palatable. Washington DC is a revolving door for Wall Street, where they can get people from Wall Street employed in the White House who quit after a couple of years to take 7 figure jobs as "consultants" in some investment firm. The media is primarily owned by the supremely wealthy, and they have no incentive to speak against their bosses. Even if they did, most of the media either come from or wish to belong to the same class of people that corporate CEO's are in, so the media is - if nothing else - sympathetic to wealth. The last possible vestige of opposition is the average American citizen, who - for basic survival - must become the average American worker.

Our effective neutralization is premised on a system that assures our dependence. What separates us from the wealthy and those who aspire to wealth is that it doesn't assure our loyalty. We will work two jobs not because we want to, not because we like the companies in question, but because we have to. We don't merely struggle to advance our status and work off the extra wing of our house; we struggle to eat and to possibly make sure we aren't rained on while we're eating. The only thing that serves to make that struggle bearable is that there's a minimal standard we can rightfully expect from the work we do. The only thing that makes it bearable is that while we need the crumbs corporations let fall on our laps, we are not subject to something as arbitrary as their whims to make sure we get them.

We do not have to hope - without a possibility of legal recourse - that our construction equipment won't explode in our faces. They have to make sure they don't. We do not have to hope - without the possibility of legal recourse - that the coal mines we work in won't collapse on our head without escape plans. We do not have to hope - without a possibility of legal recourse - that your boss won't take your failure to do a demeaning job that's beyond the demands of your job description will arbitrarily come out of your paycheck as a punishment.

We are dependent on them, but that dependency goes both ways. We need them to live, yes, but they need us to function. And they have to pay for that functionality. While it's true that they give only the bare minimum required and - in many cases, less than that - the point is that they give considerably more than they want to. And that pittance is secured by two things: the federal government (which they now own), and unions, which they're on the verge of destroying. This exposes two weaknesses, and no one is more aware of them than the business class.

The first - and main - weakness was their dependence on our purchasing power and worker productivity to secure profits. In order for us to purchase things, however, they had to give us jobs, and the presence of working standards meant giving us jobs negatively affected their profit margin. The worker problem was wholly negated by the success of globalization. China, India and similar countries gave them an impoverished work force to hire en masse for almost nothing, which meant they could throw bones to a population of people who were too poor and economically weakened to expect meat. The problem inherent to our dying purchasing power was negated by the presence of emerging markets that met it or surpassed it collectively. That means they could not only offset our diminished clout as a market; they could usurp it by making up the difference everywhere else. This is how America's economy and job market has floundered while the same companies that should be suffering with us are making record profits. This is how the American worker is written out of its own economy by its own would-be employers:
From 1995 to 2008, the American economy grew by a yearly average of 2.9 percent. During that time, the yearly economic growth rates in the world's two largest nations, China and India, averaged 9.6 percent and 6.9 percent, respectively. Increasing U.S. presence in the Chinese and Indian markets followed as the night the day.

As growth in the U.S. economy continues to lag behind that of much of the rest of the world, those U.S.-based companies able to sell more abroad gain a clear advantage over those companies whose sales are more domestic. An analysis by The Wall Street Journal's Justin Lahart of the 30 companies included in the Dow Jones industrial averages concluded that the 10 with the largest share of their sales abroad were projected to increase their revenues by an average of 8.3 percent over last year, while those with the lowest share of sales abroad were looking at increased revenues of just 1.6 percent. This puts Coca-Cola, which gets 75 percent of its sales overseas, at a distinct advantage over the Dr Pepper Snapple Group, which gets 90 percent of its sales in the U.S.

In industry after industry, foreign markets are offering more opportunity than domestic ones. The foreign affiliates owned in part or in full by U.S.-based multinationals now bring in just about as much money to their parent corporations as their domestic counterparts. A study published last year by the Business Roundtable and the United States Council Foundation concluded that in 2006, 48.6 percent of profits of U.S.-based multinationals came from their foreign affiliates, compared to just 17 percent in 1977 and 27 percent in 1994. What this means is that the equilibrium between production, pay, and purchasing -- the equilibrium that Henry Ford famously recognized when he upped his workers' wages to an unheard-of $5 a day in 1914, the equilibrium that became the model for 20th-century American capitalism -- has been shattered. Making and selling their goods abroad, U.S. multinationals can slash their workforces and wages at home while retaining their revenue and increasing their profits. And that's exactly what they've done.

For many, this would be a victory subtly fought and thoroughly won, but greed is aspirational. Its satisfaction is contingent on our consumption, not our neutralization. When they've secured our impotence, we become indistinct from the machines that depreciate the need to employ us. We become tools. Expendable. Replaceable. Cheap. This is not a fight to secure a pittance of political power just to be able to golf with some Senator or Governor. This is a concerted attempt to dismantle the foundational premise of freedom and dignity: choice. Their vision is not realized by the exclusive distribution of power to them: it is realized by the complete removal of power from us.

Despotism will not take the shape of conservative specters. It will not be Big Government taking away your guns and issuing death panels. It will not be the micro-legislation of every detail of your life. It will be you living in a shack or on the streets because it's all you can afford on what you now make. It will be you working 15 hours a day for 5 cents in conditions that affect your short-term and long-term health. It will be you begging your employer for a raise with the knowledge that the only thing that can assure it is his charity. The successful destruction of unions and collective bargaining doesn't merely secure this. It is the abolishment of your power to say "no" to it. Our ability to do that is the last ounce of strength we have left, and our "no" is the only thing that can uproot the encroachment of corporate oppression.

are their last weakness. We are the last mechanisms of opposition.
And we are positioned to remind them that their wealth is an us-given privilege and use political power to enforce that philosophy. Every word that regards these truths with tacit rejection, meek equivocation or silence is a word that loudly proclaims that an antidote to plutocracy shouldn't exist. Every "journalist" and pundit that ignores the meaning of this story and ignores the profound implications this imparts to Americans is a journalist that's complicit with the attempted destruction of the American worker. Every American that closes their eyes to this assault is an American that's comfortable with being a foundation for oligarchy. Ignorance is a luxury that only serves to afford our marginalization, and those who propagate it are heralds of a future that wishes to erase our ability to influence it.

This is not a defining moment for the question of whether we'll recapture the political process that's abandoned us. This moment defines whether we're capable of seeing that we should fight. The character of this country is on trial, and we're all witting and unwitting participants in how its longevity will be assessed. I choose to be conscious of my participation. Just as I choose to stand with those who envision this country's evolution over its corporate ownership. Our self-appointed overlords have made their move. They've chosen to assert that their right to own us overrides our right to question the extent of that ownership. Our political inaction is their weapon.

There are those who think that democracy is only valid or interesting when it's exercised in the Middle East. There are those who think that handling our affairs is exclusively defined by debating what to cut. There are those who are apathetic to the pain of what they propose, just as they're apathetic to the enormity of what they ignore. Those people have chosen their place, and it is not with you. It is with a future where America is China.

No comments: