Thursday, July 11, 2013

Inequality, invisible

I drove to the train station this morning and parked amidst a variety of nice cars (most of which are even nicer than my year-old Honda).   It's a white-collar commuter station in a well-off suburb, and the cars look like it.  The occasional "beater car" stands out as unusual.

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.


dr.primrose said...

There is a long history in western society of connecting poverty with morality. One is poor because one is immoral, lazy, drunken, slovenly, and so forth. The wealthy therefore should not assist the poor because that would be merely encouraging immorality.

There's a bit of self-interest for the wealthy to take that attitude. Not only do they get to keep all their marbles, but they can justify themselves in doing so.

it's margaret said...

... I hear you, in this post and the previous one. The sequester here is a train wreck. There is not even any employment in a place that suffers about 75% unemployment.

Mid-40K$ sounds pretty good from here (even to me) where average household income is about $15K --supporting a grandma, an auntie or uncle or two, sister and her kids, your family and your grandkids....

I cannot see much good in the direction we are heading.

IT said...

Margaret, you are right as always. I don' t know how those people can claim to be Christian and ignore the horrors they are inflicting on the native Americans.

I wrote previously about the need to re-orient "profit" from "money".

it's margaret said...

IT --thanks for the link. I don't remember reading that post before --mea culpa!

--I've been doing a lot of thinking about "biblical" christianity vs. "sacramental" christianity. Biblical Christians are rooted in words --ideas. Sacramental Christians are rooted in stuff --bread, wine, flesh, blood, fire, water, oil, hands, people.... it's a whole other world view.... I'm hoping that makes sense.

And don't get me wrong --I'm hopping mad at the imbeciles who have cut science and research grants. It's pure idiocy. We all suffer because of it.

dr.primrose said...

The California Prop. 8 proponents today asked the California Supreme Court to order that same-sex wedding licenses by stopped on the ground that the governor lacked the authority to end enforcement of Prop. 8. See the L.A. Times story Gay marriage opponents ask California court to deny wedding licenses.

"ProtectMarriage, the group that sponsored the 2008 ballot measure banning gay marriage, urged the state high court to act under a California constitutional provision that prohibits officials from refusing to enforce a law unless an appellate court has first determined the law is unconstitutional. There is no binding appellate ruling that says Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

"Legal experts predicted the California court would reject the challenge. Lawyers for the gay couples who fought Proposition 8 in federal court said they anticipated such an action and were prepared to respond to it. They said a state court may not interfere with a federal court's decision."

Anonymous said...

People who have like to think their "having" is a reward for their superior way of living; they like to think it could never be them. For most of America, as you say, that reality is one medical crisis away from being burst in upon. "God helps those who help themselves" the protestant work ethic says and yet, I don't really remember Jesus saying much about that at all. He said the reward was in helping one another, and leaving worldly things to those of the world.