Monday, October 6, 2014

The Precariat, the Plutocrats, and the New Deal

(WPA workers on a road project in Maryland, 1937. When Americans needed jobs during hard times, New Deal policymakers gave them jobs. Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland College Park Archives.)

Well, we received our happy news last week, the unemployment rates is down to 5.9%! Yippee!

Unfortunately, in other news, the labor force participation rate is at a 36-year-low, there are 23 million Americans who wish they had a full-time job but can't find one, and wages are still stagnating for the middle-class and poor (even though their productivity is up). In other words, tens of millions of Americans are running in circles, if running at all.

On the bright side, the rich are doing better than ever! "All together the 400 wealthiest Americans are worth a staggering $2.29 trillion, up $270 billion from a year ago" ("Inside The 2014 Forbes 400: Facts And Figures About America's Wealthiest"). Indeed, over the last few years we have watched two things rise in sync with one another: The wealth of the wealthy and the poverty of children (see, e.g., "Childhood poverty rates on the rise").

Leo Gerard, the International President of the United Steel Workers, wrote an interesting op-ed today, titled "Good People Don't Get Good Jobs." Gerard highlights the dismal lives of marginalized workers: "They live precariously, without health insurance, without a living wage, without a schedule for duty, without a guarantee of work the next week or month. This mounting army of workers worries incessantly and survives only because of government and family assistance. CEOs and corporations gorge themselves on profits made on the suffering of workers trapped in this life of frightening instability called the precariat."

According to a professor at the University of Bath, England, the precariat "consists of a multitude of insecure people, living bits-and-pieces lives, in and out of short-term jobs, without a narrative of occupational development, including millions of frustrated educated youth who do not like what they see before them, millions of women abused in oppressive labour, growing numbers of criminalised tagged for life, millions being categorised as ‘disabled’ and migrants in their hundreds of millions around the world. They are denizens; they have a more restricted range of social, cultural, political and economic rights than citizens around them."  

Yep, that sound about right.

Unfortunately, we may have reached a point of no return. Corporate America and the super-wealthy have used their enhanced riches to buy our electoral & political processes, and thus our government. And millions of Americans--susceptible to the slick, deceptive marketing perpetrated against them by Corporate America and the super-wealthy--continue to vote against their own economic interests. Millions of others don't even bother to vote.

 (President Franklin Roosevelt. Photo courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum.)

In an April 1938 speech to Congress, President Franklin Roosevelt warned us that "The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism -- ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power."

So, the question today is: Will we tolerate it? 

In the same speech, Roosevelt said: "No people, least of all a democratic people, will be content to go without work or to accept some standard of living which obviously and woefully falls short of their capacity to produce. No people, least of all a people with our traditions of personal liberty, will endure the slow erosion of opportunity for the common man, the oppressive sense of helplessness under the domination of a few, which are overshadowing our whole economic life."

My fear is that Roosevelt is wrong here, for it certainly seems as though we are content with what is happening, and quite willing to endure it. Yes, there are pockets of resistance but, by and large, there is no great mass movement for change. Millions continue to vote for politicians who are funded by Corporate America and the super-wealthy (and millions don't vote at all). So, we can expect misery to keep growing for the 99%, and wealth to keep growing for the 1%.

We need a new and stronger New Deal. Unfortunately, all we have right now is the precariat and the plutocrats.

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