September 06, 2010
A Labor Day Message: We’re Screwed!

The Yahoo main page had some interesting stories posted yesterday. First, there was a Ďnewsí item about islands you can actually buy. Then, later on, they told us about the best day of the year to purchase a new car. The most interesting piece was called ď7 Spending Tips From Frugal Billionaires.Ē

Apparently, weíre supposed to get wet over the fact that Warren Buffet lives in a relatively modest home in Omaha and eschews luxury spending, ďToys are a pain in the neck.Ē Thereís no mention of the fact that he disinherited his granddaughter for appearing in a documentary called The One Percent, which is about the gross disparities of wealth in this country. Given their druthers, even nice guy billionaires prefer not to give the game away. Besides, that would ruin the theme that Yahoo seemed to be pushing, which is envy the rich. Thereís another billionaire who figures prominently, someone named Carlos Slim, who could spend ď$1,150 dollars every minute for a hundred years before running of money.Ē Heís lived in the same home for forty years and doesnít own a yacht or a plane. Hey, Iíve never owned a yacht or a plane either. Does that make me especially virtuous?

This is just another example of our one true national religion in action, money worship. Billionaires are singled as objects of special praise for doing exactly the kinds of things that we all do anyway. If the CEO of a company drives a pick-up truck and wears blue jeans, weíre supposed to melt with admiration and regard the prick as something extra special. Forget that he makes his money by laying people off, slashing wages, eliminating benefits, running sweat shops in Indonesia and Nicaragua, and financing Republican political campaigns to keep his taxes low. Nah, he flies coach and gets ten dollar hair cuts just like you. Shoot, heís a swell guy!

The more insidious effect, of course, is to imply that you arenít rich because you donít do enough of those frugal things. You spend too much. You carry too much debt. Why canít you be more like Warren Buffet? On second thought, maybe you just donít deserve to be rich. And on it goes, the perpetuation of one of our most harmful national myths, the idea that rich people are rich because they are smarter, more thrifty, and work harder than you. If youíre poor itís your own damn fault, so quit complaining. Thatís one of the reasons we never have any structural economic reforms in this country. Thatís why poor dumb Tea Party types with virtually no hope of crawling out of the depths always vote to give people like George W. Bush and Mitt Romney a tax cut. Weíve internalized the slave masterís morality.

Here are a few of the tips offered in the article that spendthrifts like us would be well advised to follow: Keep your home simple. Buy your clothes off the rack. Drive a dependable car and avoid luxury items. You know, things that have probably never occurred to you. Itís pretty unbelievable. What do these people think we do, blow our unemployment checks on Cristal? Call in sick from Wal-Mart in order to get measured for tailored suits? Just what kind of country do they think weíre living in? These articles assume the existence of a middle class that really isnít here anymore (largely, I should add, as a result those awesome, ascetic billionaires and their never-ending quest to make more money at our expense.) Whatís left of a traditional American middle class is subsisting on credit cards and fading fast. Instead, weíre becoming a nation of college educated service workers, bartenders and waiters and cashiers. We are under-employed, impecunious serfs with useless college degrees, mountains of student debt, and no future. Part-time, no benefits, and donít forget to smile and wear plenty of flair. Itís even becoming impossible to get a second job because your schedule is deliberately changed from week to week. You canít organize anything else around it. Your DMV record and your urine are inspected prior to employment.

And donít forget, you are not an employee. That implies a contractual relationship between two parties óemployer and employee ó with obligations on each side that must be performed. That isnít really the case now. You have obligations, they donít. You are a useless slab of fat that can be sliced off and discarded on your bossís slightest whim or because of any tiny blip in the market. Nor are you a worker. Thatís a word which carries some dignity. It refers to an honorable and meaningful activity that you can take pride in. Thatís definitely not the reality anymore. No, you are now an associate. Thatís the term du jour these days. Itís a clever if transparent trick designed to mask the obscene inequality between you and the board of directors. After all, what do associates do? They associate on a free and equal basis. They are partners and friends who work together in a common enterprise for the mutual benefit of both. Isnít that nice? It almost makes you forget the CEO of the company makes one-hundred times more than you and the only retirement youíll ever get is death.

Thatís the reality of things today. Working harderís got nothing to with do it. Trimming your expenses doesnít either. Intelligence, ambition, drive, the Puritan work ethic, none of these things have any real relevance at all. The fact is, weíre increasingly trapped in a system that is explicitly designed to keep us poor. Rather reform anything, weíre cheerfully told to copy a few superficial habits of the rich and famous.

Happy Labor Day. Weíre screwed.

Posted by OHollern at September 06, 2010 06:02 PM
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I didn't know about Buffett disinheriting his granddaughter for political-economic reasons. That's taken him way down the list of people I had some respect for.

Another comment: Who can afford a dependable car! Look at the craigslist wanted columns full of desperate people with $200 needing a car to get to work.

Posted by: Joyful on September 7, 2010 6:45 PM

Too true. Too deep damn true.

Posted by: Tom on September 8, 2010 6:28 PM
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