If it weren't for the sequester and budget effects on grants and science (and if I were a different sort of person) I could actually live relatively unaware of the bad economy. I bet most of my fellow commuters are blissfully unaware of it. We live in the blessed bubble of the suburban professional classes, gifted with education and privileged by social class. We don't see the shuttered stores or the rows of foreclosures in our neighborhood; houses are selling briskly, and values are coming up. (The stability is illusory, as most of us are probably only a medical disaster away from financial crisis, which is why I call it a bubble....). This isn't the 1%, but it's probably the 5%.
But our economically sheltered life shields us from what's really going on.
There's a new Frontline documentary on PBS that profiles two American Families, and their decline. Solid union jobs disappeared, and they had to scramble. And as a result, they fell off the "American Dream". Salon describes it thusly:
To use the regrettable cliché, both families “played by the rules.” They are in fact superhumanly devoted to the rules. They both attend church — Claude is actually a minister — and they hate the idea of going on the dole and they take any available work and the kids are Boy Scouts and their parents are dedicated to their educations. The families are so virtuous, so imbued with the great American work ethic, that it is practically unfair to other struggling Americans; families that fuck up deserve our sympathy, and the support of a social safety net, as well. But as George Packer wrote earlier this month, the film serves as a rebuke to right-wing social critics like the execrable Charles Murray, “who believe that the decline of America’s working class comes from a collapse of moral values, social capital, personal responsibility, and traditional authority…” These people are overflowing with personal responsibility....
Terry Neumann sums it up: “We’ll just work until we collapse and keel over and die.”In the New Yorker, George Packer writes,
[T]he overwhelming impression in “Two American Families” is not of mistakes but of fierce persistence: how hard the Stanleys and Neumanns work, how much they believe in playing by the rules, how remarkable the cohesion of the Stanley family is, how tough Terry Neumann has to become. Both families devoutly attend church. Government assistance is alien and hateful to them. Keith Stanley says, “I don't know what drugs or even alcohol looks like.” [T]hese people do what they’re supposed to do. They have to navigate this heartless economy by themselves. And they keep sinking and sinking.
On Sunday, the Times reported that C.E.O. pay in 2012 increased by sixteen per cent over the previous year, with the median compensation package now at $15.1 million. The blessings at the top grow more fruitful year by year, in good times and bad. There must be a social or economic theory somewhere that explains why all this is necessary and just.How is it that we've gotten to a place in our society where the crises of families like those profiled in this documentary are invisible to the chattering classes and the politicians? Is it all social segregation?
Or I wonder if it has something to do with the worship of money as the end-all and be-all. I mean, think about it: the Koch brothers, who are outrageously rich, want to game the system to get even richer.
The complete lack of values in corporate-run America can be summed up by considering Walmart, which infamously pays its employees so little they quality for public assistance. But there is an alternative, as in this article about Costco:
Costco went public in 1985, and over the years, Wall Street repeatedly asked it to reduce wages and health benefits. [The CEO] instead boosted them every three years.Think about that: Wall Street penalizes a company because it pays its workers well and gives them health care. How do we get to a point where pure money is NOT the only form of profit? We need the dignity of work and the security of families to also be considered a profit. More Costco, less Walmart.
And above all, we need to be "one", not segregated into fractured interest groups.