Archive | September, 2013

On the Coming Middle Class Revolution

29 Sep

inequality

The problems of poverty and inequality have always bothered me. This is so even though I’ve not been poor nor have I ever lived among the poor.

Why then, I ask myself, do I have this strong sense that it is morally wrong to allow the sad side of civilization to exist?

Others are free of this burden, why not me?

The great religions speak against poverty and urge attention and compassion. Yet legislators who profess these faiths will happily cut  $40 billion from the food stamp program.

While my empathy for the poor and the marginal working class is hard to shake, so, too, is my view that the rich and everyone else would benefit financially, spiritually and culturally from a more egalitarian society. They key to this society is the easy ability to get and hold a job that ensures freedom from want.

In such a society, billion-dollar food stamp programs are unnecessary.

You don’t need public housing or a bloated Medicaid system.

And because people would have more pride and self-respect, society would need fewer courts, cops, prisons and mental health facilities.

There would be great savings.

People would have money in their pockets and the business community would thrive.

There is little downside, except perhaps that the very rich would have slightly less money and corporations would not be able to amass huge cash surpluses.

By contrast to this semi-utopia, I find the present oligarchical society unpleasant and dangerous. And let’s face it, Thomas Jefferson aside, that’s what it is – an oligarchy.

The decline of the Great American Cities is but one example of the damage caused by too few people holding too much money, which is unfairly channeled to them through favorable tax policy and special interest legislation. Let them keep what they earn, what they deserve, what they spent a lifetime building, just check their greed when it denies others.

Prior to the great transfer of wealth upward, average people helped keep the cities vibrant by living and working in them. It doesn’t take an archeologist to figure out what went wrong. Go there and see the shells of empty factories right next to abandoned neighborhoods.

There are complex reasons for this, but most damaging has been the systematic dismantling of the middle class.

No nation can be strong without a fully functioning, accessible middle class.

With globalization and the extreme growth of markets in developing countries, this reality has been ignored. It is ignored because the American middle class is needed less and less as consumers of goods and services. Jobs  can be eliminated and wages kept low because support can be found abroad.

A Sept. 17 report by the U.S. Census Bureau says American men who worked full-time in 2012 earned less in real dollars than men in 1973. Yet the GDP in the U.S. has tripled. Where did all that wealth go?

To the top.

fast food strikeAmericans speak well of their one revolution but don’t expect another. Even so, revolution is more common today than ever, and the oligarchy should be cautious not to push too far. For the first time in a very long time, average people are noticing that class warfare is being waged against them. Those who work in the exploitive fast food industry are slowly standing up. They are not asking for $1 more, or $2 more; they basically want their salary doubled to $15 an hour.

That’s bold.

Those fighting for a more equal society have adopted a new name for what they seek: social justice.

That’s convincing and unthreatening. Who could be against that? As a result, their influence is growing.

More than people, however, it is raw statistics – overwhelming and indisputable — that are leading the charge. These figures are so dramatic that a director named Jacob Kornbluth, working with former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, has made a movie out of them.

It’s called “Inequality for All” and is getting wide notice in the media. It won at Sundance. The people seem ready for it.

In such times, even Forbes magazine feels comfortable pointing out that in 35 states welfare payments are higher than minimum wage.

Tim Cook, Apple CEO

Tim Cook, Apple CEO

that the $378 million compensation for Apple CEO Tim Cook is equal to the combined salaries of 6,258 Apple employees.

And for the quaint people who still read books, Sasha Abramsky has written, “The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives.” It suggests that inequality is designed for social control and that poverty is a key component of the American system that, ultimately, will destroy democracy.

Meanwhile, in higher education – once a critical component of upward mobility — there is a great deal of hand wringing over declining enrollment. The concern is that colleges and universities are doing something wrong, and that the traditional model no longer works. In truth, there is nothing wrong with the model. What’s wrong is that without a middle class there isn’t much need for colleges.

Many will close.

Unless … the middle class fights back.

Amazingly, the democratic system allows it to do that. Even though the system is rigged with sophisticated gerrymandering and unrealistic requirements for campaign funding, there is still a way to change government.

The normally passive middle class could rise up. They would do so after watching, reading, fuming, sharing horror stories and trying to support children who can’t find jobs.

If they can begin to organize and act with conviction, they won’t even have to work up a sweat. Real revolution is unnecessary. The attentive members of Congress don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. They sway easily. They took care of the middle class and built up the economy after World War II.

They can do it again.

The golden years in America – for the middle class and nearly everyone else – were from about 1945 to 1980. Let’s bring them back. All it takes is for several hundred thousand Twitter fanatics to take to the streets, maybe even with assistance from the very poor (the saddest of all). It will be a movement the media will surely glorify as “The American Spring.”

It need not be messy.

We can call it a revolution without it really being one.

We can get people working again and get the economy moving again. Optimism will flourish again. We can reach out and reach up. We can do it all together.

The wonderful thing is the uncompassionate can do this for purely selfish reasons.

As the king said, what you do to the least of my brothers …

By Lanny Morgnanesi

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The rich and famous are not to be envied

14 Sep

Bowie

The curse of fame cannot be understood by those who don’t have people chasing after them; who aren’t made to wonder in astonishment if they are perhaps more popular than Jesus; who aren’t under intense pressure to please the multitude by outperforming their past selves each and every time they re-mount the stage or appear again on screen.

I’ve heard enough reasonably sane celebrities discuss it to know it is a world apart. Dave Chappelle, the comedian who walked away from millions in order to avoid self-destruction, was one. He’s back now, after learning to navigate again in calmer waters.

But the most concise explanation of what fame is like might have been given by rocker David Bowie in Cracked Actor, a 1974 BBC documentary. Bowie was an addict at the time but had it together enough to convincing explain things.

He said fame was like being “in the car when someone’s accelerating very, very fast, and you’re not driving … and you’re not sure whether you like it or not …”

So when celebrities conduct themselves in ridiculous ways, especially young ones, the common folk should try to understand. It’s doubtful we could even begin to withstand what they go through. I once had a local public access cable TV show, worse than Wayne’s World and way down on the dial. Some guy who walked and talked funny recognized me in the supermarket. He wouldn’t leave me alone, acted as if I was somehow special, seemed to want to bathe in an aura that he thought I was giving off.

It happened just that once, if you don’t count the elderly woman who said, “I watch you, and, you know, I think you are getting better.”

I can’t possibly imagine what this would be like multiplied millions of times. And so I never envy those who are rich and famous but scared to death to go to the corner, unshaven, for a cup of coffee. That’s not life.

And now the question: Is it their fault or ours?

By Lanny Morgnanesi

The factories left, so did the Dodgers; but Brooklyn was been saved by al fresco

10 Sep

Hipster Brooklyn

In a prior post about Detroit, I mentioned Hipster Brooklyn – how young, creative people brought it came back from crime and decay, how it could be a model for the Motor City, which is bankrupt and hardly even a city.

Shortly after that post, I met up with a cousin whom I don’t see much. He’s an accountant from New York. Although he now lives in Manhattan, he spent years in Brooklyn, moving in when it was cheap, crime-ridden and far from hip.

Brooklyn mapI asked him about the transformation. He vividly recalled the day he became aware that Brooklyn had changed.

“Walking down the street around noon, I passed a restaurant,” he said. “A man from the restaurant was carrying a table outside. He set it up on the sidewalk, brought out two chairs, a tablecloth and a candle. I said, almost out loud, ‘Oh no, someone is going to steal that stuff – probably in the next few minutes!’ But they didn’t. That’s when I knew something remarkable had happened to Brooklyn.”

By Lanny Morgnanesi

 

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