Our Economic System Is Killing Workers

WorkmanYou may have noticed a lot of talk about this new paper by Angus Deaton and Anne Case, Rising Morbidity and Mortality in Midlife Among White Non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st Century. It seems that middle aged people are living longer, but not white men. (I can’t say about black men, because the study didn’t look at them — but I assume it is the same for them.) A lot of people are speculating why this can be. But it doesn’t seem hard to understand at all. For people in the middle class, life really has become worse.

I know what economists say: people are so much richer today. This certainly is the best of times. But there is something wrong with that thinking straight off the top. Productivity is up. GDP is up. But wages are only barely up. And I doubt that they compensate for all the extra things that people have to buy. It’s not enough now to just buy a television and get a free signal. Now if you want anything at all, you need cable. You have to have a computer and internet now and you didn’t have to have them in the past. Is it good to have them? Sure! But now if you want to find a job, you have to have them. And that isn’t calculated in all these economic discussions of increased standards of living.

But that’s not the main thing from my standpoint. We now live in the Uber economy. People cobble together livings. When they don’t, they live in a world where they work for some company that doesn’t pay them as much as their parents and grandparents made. What’s more, they can depend upon being laid off at the slightest sign of an economic downturn. It’s kind of hard to plan for a life with kids and a house when you don’ know if you are going to have a job next year. Where is the meaning in a life like that?

Obama used to talk about creating a society where if you worked hard and played by the rules, you would thrive. He doesn’t talk much about that anymore. Instead, he talks about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and about how that’s going to improve our economy. Of course, we’ve seen our economy improve a lot over the last 40 years. But we haven’t seen the lives of working people improve. So who cares? Obama seems to be telling us something: if you work hard and play by the rules, well, you’re a sucker.

The main thing that I’ve noticed in my life is that this kind of society is one that creates great uncertainty and anxiety in people’s lives. For the first time in my life, I feel fairly secure because I’m working for a number of people. They don’t even pretend to be loyal to me. And that’s great! I’d rather know where I stand. And also, since I’m good at my work, I can be clear with them: if something better comes along, they can enjoy finding something to replace me. But most people aren’t in my position. And they shouldn’t have to be. Mediocre workers ought to be allowed to have decent lives too.

It should come as no shock that middle age workers are dying off due to stress related illnesses and suicide. We’ve created a society that doesn’t value people as people. We don’t provide them ways of finding meaning in life. And without meaning what is the point of life? I know what the conservatives and the economists will tell us: it’s all about making money. But only truly messed up people would think that. Unfortunately, they are the people who control this country.

Paid Patriotism Is the American Way

Paid PatriotismLast week at Huffington Post I learned this little tidbit of news, Pentagon Paid Up To $6.8 Million Of Taxpayer Money To Pro Sports Teams For Military Tributes. As if it isn’t enough that every football game (not to mention NASCAR race) isn’t wrapped so tightly in the flag that it produces skid marks on it. Add to this the constant commercials for the military that make it look like the job involves rappelling from helicopters and handing out candy to young children. Now we know the Pentagon is paying sports teams to have those charming “we support the troops” displays.

It makes sense if you think about it. After all, what does our military exist for? It certainly doesn’t exist to keep us safe. It exists to maintain the American empire and make sure that markets stay open for our corporations. These are corporations, of course, who show absolutely no loyalty to the country. They have only one (legally defined) loyalty: maximize shareholder value. So as long as it isn’t illegal to sell weapons to groups that would attack us, they will. And let’s face it: if they thought they could get away with selling weapons to ISIS, they would do that too.

So it just makes sense that the military is paying billion dollar sports teams to pretend that the US has to spend almost as much money on the military as the rest of the world combined. It’s all about money and power and the NFL and US Navy really aren’t any different in that way — except that there is more head trauma in the NFL. It isn’t put this way of course. It isn’t “advertising.” That would be too coarse. These are just celebrations of American patriotism, and in this modern world, patriotism is not something that just happens spontaneously! Only Rubes think that!

The actual line items in these contracts are “paid patriotism”:

…the payment of taxpayer or Defense funds to teams in exchange for tributes like NFL’s “Salute to Service.” Honors paid for by the DOD were found not only in the NFL, but also the NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS. They included on-field color guard ceremonies, performances of the national anthem, and ceremonial first pitches and puck drops.

This all came to light because two Republican Senators — John McCain and Jeff Flake — put out a report on it. The report hilariously states, “Given the immense sacrifices made by our service members, it seems more appropriate that any organization with a genuine interest in honoring them, and deriving public credit as a result, should do so at its own expense and not at that of the American taxpayer” Oh please! This is business.

Jeff Flake voted against monitoring TARP funds to encourage mortgage relief. He voted for making it harder for individuals to get bankruptcy protection. He is against the Home Affordable Modification Program. He’s a corporate guy! He knows that if you are rich, you get all the breaks and if you are poor you should be allowed to die of starvation on the streets. He should be all for billionaire sports teams getting a bit of taxpayer money to pretend to care about the military.

I’m not even going to talk about John McCain. I think we all know what a bitter old man he is. The only time he’s ever done the right thing is out of spite. He too is a big booster for society’s winners. So his outrage is about as believable as Captain Renault in Casablanca.

Of course, the whole thing is a joke. But are we really supposed to worry about that $6.8 million spent over four years? That’s $1.7 million per year. The current Benghazi hearing has spent $4.5 million over the past 17 months. That’s $3.2 million per year — almost twice as much. If the money is the issue, then we shouldn’t care. If it is the idea of it, then we should applaud. This is exactly what America stands for — and what McCain and Flake think it should stand for.

Morning Music: Jesse Ferguson

Jesse FergusonHere we are with another week of morning music. I had an idea for a theme, but I drank a beer, and that is really all that it takes to totally upset my thinking patterns. But last week, I featured Jesse Ferguson singing a beautiful rendition of “Go Tell Aunt Rhody.” And I was so taken with it that I thought he would make a good week’s worth of music. And then commenter Rick encouraged me to do so. I don’t know much about the guy, but I think there is another material from him to just jump in and see what I learn.

So let’s start with his song “Smitten” off his 2013 album, Shift. He says it is a love song based on the “ten plagues of Israel.” I think he means the ten plagues of Egypt, but whatever. This song reminds me a bit of Nick Drake.

Anniversary Post: The Eternal Jew

Der ewige JudeOn this day in 1937, Der ewige Jude opened in the Library of the German Museum in Munich. In case it isn’t clear, it was an art exhibit with the English title, “The Eternal Jew.” It was a display of “degenerate art.” That was basically art that Hitler didn’t like. You know: modern art. It was all a Jewish conspiracy. So much was. But the Nazis loved these “degenerate art” exhibits. It reminds me of people who love to look at pornography because they think it should be abolished. I’m sure the Germans quite liked the art.

Interesting thing about the Nazi approach to art was that they loved Romantic stuff. This is, interestingly, the same belief of Ayn Rand and the Objectivists. It doesn’t really matter where you scratch at that philosophy, it all comes out the same: fascist. I know: they don’t hate the Jews. But the point of fascism isn’t to hate any particular group; it is just to separate the world into the good and the evil. The Nazis had the good Aryans and the evil Jews and Gypsies. The Objectivists separate the world into the good industrialists and the evil moochers. I don’t think there is any question but that if the Objectivists got power, they would round up all the poor, put them in work camps, and eventually murder and incinerate them. Did I mention that Paul Ryan is an Objectivist?

But the good thing about all those “degenerate art” exhibits is that it did protect the art for a time. And it exposed people to the art. Ideology is rubbish. If people see art that works, they know it. I’m sure a lot of people looked at that stuff and thought, “Oh, that’s rather nice.” Of course, I’m sure there was lots of explicitly antisemitic art as well. The image above is a poster for the exhibit. I don’t think it needs much explanation.