Sunday, January 22, 2017
Betsy and Malia: Unearned jobs and dream internships for the elite, but no WPA or CCC for the rest of us. Welcome to plutocracy.
Above: These formerly-jobless women are employed on a WPA archaeological project in Alabama, ca. 1935-1943. Eight-and-a-half million struggling Americans found jobs in the WPA during the New Deal era. They created hundreds of thousands of public works, many of which we still enjoy and utilize today. Ironically, many Americans look down their noses at the unemployed, calling them "takers," while unknowingly using many projects created by the unemployed, like roads, bridges, water mains, airports, libraries, and parks. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
During her confirmation hearing to become the new U.S. Secretary of Education, born-into-wealth Betsy DeVos, who has no experience as a student or administrator in America's public school system, was asked by Bernie Sanders, "Do you think, if you were not a multi-billionaire, if your family had not made hundreds of millions of dollars of contributions to the Republican Party, that you would be sitting here today?"
DeVos replied, "Senator, as a matter of fact, I do think that there would be that possibility." This, of course, is ludicrous. A middle-class or low-income Jane Schmo, with no real experience in the public schools, would not come within one billion light years of the U.S. Secretary of Education seat. DeVos is there because her rich buddies, and her political puppets, are rewarding her for the hundreds of millions of dollars her family has given to right-wing causes. If she was a modest-income Jane Schmo, Trump would have picked someone else. Indeed, he wouldn't even know who she was.
Dream internships... for the children of the elite, not you
In other recent news, we learned that Malia Obama has landed a prestigious internship--before she's even attended one day of college (which will be at Harvard, debt-free)--with the big-wig Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein: "Malia will reportedly work with the marketing or development teams in the New York office of the Weinstein Company in February. The Weinstein Company was founded by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who's a big supporter of the Democratic Party, has hosted fundraisers for the party, and is friendly with Barack and Michelle Obama" ("Malia Obama is going to intern with hotshot Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein," Business Insider, January 20, 2017).
Of course, these stories about DeVos and Obama are simply high-profile examples of what goes on everyday in plutocratic America. We are a culture of nepotism and cronyism. The elite circle their wagons around the best jobs and the most prestigious internships (which are often unpaid, to discourage the children of middle and low-income families from applying), and leave the rest of us with stagnant or dropping wages and $1.4 trillion in student loan debt (and growing, see Student Loan Debt Clock).
But the elite are even more sinister than that. You see, while they're securing the best jobs and internships for themselves, they're also blocking any effort create a new WPA or CCC for unemployed Americans who just need a helping hand between jobs, or just need a jump start out of school, training, or some other transitional situation, e.g., military service.
Above: Two students perform experiments at Howard University, Washington, DC, ca. 1935-1939. The building was funded by the New Deal's Public Works Administration. The New Deal created facilities all across the country for middle and low-income groups to have more educational, health, and job opportunities. This type of ethos is in short supply today. Today, nepotism, cronyism, privilege, and snobbery rule the day. Our elders and ancestors who lived during the 1930s and 40s are called the "Greatest Generation." What will we be called? Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
No WPA for the rest of us
In 2011, U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) introduced legislation to create a new WPA. His idea was to give jobs to the unemployed fixing America's crumbling infrastructure. He received no support from Republicans, no support from Democrats, and no support from President Obama (so much for the "audacity of hope"). Hence the bill died a lonely death in committee. Joe Biden's economic adviser wrote: "There will be no WPA-type programs in our near future. There was no appetite for them in the Obama admin in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression and there’s a lot less now. The reasons for that are interesting and I’ll speak to them another day. But it ain’t happening." (As far as I know, we never got that follow-up explanation.)
Above: Nepotism and cronyism have always been a part of American government, even during the New Deal. But New Deal policymakers were much more focused on increasing job opportunities for those who might not otherwise have them, than coddling the wealthy. The photo above, taken in 1942, shows a young man in the National Youth Administration (which began as a WPA program) in the Virgin Islands. Millions of young and low-income men & women were hired into the NYA between 1935 and 1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
No CCC for the rest us
In 2012, when legislation was introduced to create a new CCC-like jobs program for unemployed veterans, Senate Republicans blocked it. We know that the suicide rate for young veterans, for a long time now, has been higher than it is for the rest of the population, and we know that unemployment and financial stress are factors that increase suicide rates. Interestingly, five Republican senators broke ranks with their sociopath colleagues and supported the legislation. One, Dean Heller of Nevada, said: "After everything our veterans have done for us, the least we can do is make sure they are afforded every opportunity to thrive here at home." Too bad more Republicans don't have that mindset.
Above: CCC boys constructing a building in Boise National Forest, Idaho, 1933. During the New Deal, millions of young, lower-income men received opportunities to earn a little money and learn some work skills. In return, America received hundreds of new or improved parks & forests that we still use today. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.
The super-wealthy and their political puppets prefer us to be unemployed and financially devastated
A 2013 survey report, from researchers at Northwestern and Vanderbilt universities, indicated that only 8% of wealthy Americans support the following proposition: "The federal government should provide jobs for everyone able and willing to work who cannot find a job in private employment." So, it seems that about 92% of wealthy Americans are saying, "If you're not working for me, making me profit, then you should remain jobless and destitute. To hell with you."
But why are the wealthy so opposed to a WPA or CCC program? Answer: Because their investment returns depend on a steady pool of desperate, miserable, and financially devastated workers. Such misery keeps wages low and profits up. Whenever there are more workers than jobs, investors and CEOs salivate, "MORE PROFIT!!!"
What about politicians? Why won't they support a new WPA or CCC? Two reasons. First, they do the bidding of the super-wealthy since the super-wealthy finance their political campaigns. You don't want to upset your political sugar daddies. Second, the unemployed make great political punching bags. Politicians love to call them "parasites" and "takers," scoring quick political points with their heartless base. And so, if all the unemployed found jobs, that would be one less group for politicians to demonize for political gain.
The super-wealthy and their political puppets are not our friends
One would think, as a matter of basic fairness, that if the elite are going to hoard the best opportunities for themselves, they would at least have the decency to create a modest-paying WPA and/or CCC so that the rest of us could have some opportunities when we get laid-off, when the economy tanks, when our chosen careers become obsolete, etc. But nope, most of the super-wealthy don't roll that way. They feel, "I get the best opportunities, because of my wealth privilege. You get nothing but boot straps, screw you." They may not express this grotesque system of privilege & advantage so openly, but they definitely express it with the policies they pay legislators to create and impose on us, for example: student loan bankruptcy restrictions, regressive taxation at the state & local level, a bail system that favors the wealthy, constant assaults on the social safety net, and weak enforcement of financial crimes - crimes that defund the common good and rip-off the public.
Why so many tens of millions of American continue to believe that people like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are our friends, and will fix the economic problems that are crushing us, is beyond me (after all, it was them, and their corporate buddies, who created the problems). But I do know this: As long as we continue to put faith and hope in super-wealthy Americans, and their political puppets, we'll continue to fight for the insufficient scraps they leave behind - while they sit in their lofty towers of privilege, snickering at us and trading unearned jobs and dream internships amongst each other.
As George Carlin said: "It's a big club, and you ain't in it."
Also see, "The American Dream is a myth, says Nobel-prize winner Joseph Stiglitz," CNN, April 22, 2015; "America Is Even Less Socially Mobile Than Economists Thought," The Atlantic, July 23, 2015; and "U.S. Kids Far Less Likely To Out-Earn Their Parents, As Inequality Grows," NPR, December 9, 2016.