Monday, October 22, 2007

Who's to Blame?

Comments in response to Jen's heart-rending post on a homeless child, and a post by Julie that looks at related questions, prompt me to visit the crucial question of whom to blame for the worsening economic fortunes of the majority of Americans, which has a lot to do with what we do to reverse the situation.

Let me start also by noting that Americans are not the worst-off people on the planet. Most of us blogging are clearly not the worst off of Americans. However, the way the world is structured, a decline in socioeconomic equality in the United States has extremely high likelihood of spreading and worsening inequities elsewhere.

Let's also get rid of some bugaboos. Globalization is not a person and does not have a will of its own. Stop blaming globalization, corporations or even the Republican Party. Let's instead focus on the people behind these abstractions.

Start with the person in the mirror. Yes, you.

Like that cheap shirt, iPod, pair of sneakers, etc.? Like that 15%, 25% your mutual fund adds to your investment account? Guess where it all comes from? Low wages and widening income inequality, not just U.S. inequality but global.

The Indians are not becoming rich. The Chinese only contribute labor to most of the electronics made in the People's Republic and they get less than the U.S. licensing company from each sale.

Am I going too fast? My point -- borrowed heavily from Robert Reich's new book Supercapitalism -- is that as investors and consumers we are part of the skein that makes all this inequality yawn widely.

The only people who can change this is the other side of us, the citizen side, the part of us that rejects a permanent state reflecting the U.S. reality that in 2006 the middle class lost ground, the poor stagnated and only the top 20% of earners gained ground, carving out more than half of all income for themselves.

We need to demand that Democrats stop being major wusses and sellouts -- or we have to look for Greens or something else. OK, not Republicans; they basically want a return to the gilded 1907 when there was still child labor, segregation and a myriad of social ills that made life very, very comfortable for those at the top at the expense of everyone else.

We need to focus on raising wages, lowering unemployment, making basic needs such as food and health care available to all people, just because they are people. We need to remember that silly social issues such as gay marriage are the adversary's way of baiting us into losing political debates.

The Larry Craigs (the men's room toe-tapping, partition glad handing GOP gay-bashing senator) will always make hay of the horrors of ... gasp ... homosexuality. Yet no one went hungry because there are gays and lesbians, any more than the divorce rate has anything to do with gays.

Let's also not vent on people who can't change things. The low-paid caseworker who seems insensitive, the teacher whose students never study and thus never learn, the cop who has to flash his presence amid open-air drug markets lest the poor drug dealers become entrapped. There are lots of government employees who lead quiet lives of desperation because the jobs they once took up with pride have been hollowed out by budget cuts, corruption and stupidity at the top.

So go ahead, get mad and say you won't take it any more. Encourage everyone you know to vote for change, to write letters to elected officials for change, to write letters to the editor, to blog for change.

Don't waste your time on economic processes, legal fictions (corporations, for example) or powerless people.

Let's instead work together to make representative decisionmaking in government really representative of the majority of us.
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