Friday, December 02, 2011

Class Warfare? Now That's Rich

"Take a step back and see the little people,
They might be young1,
But they're the ones that make the big people big.
So listen, as they whisper 'What about me?'"
~~from What About Me?
~~performed by Moving Pictures, written by Garry Frost & Frances Swan

Today, let's talk about income disparity. Let's talk about the stubbornly high unemployment rate2, despite the ever-increasing wealth of the alleged "job creators." Let's talk numbers, statistics, economic cause and effect.

Just kidding. This isn't that kind of blog. If you want that kind of stuff, there's no shortage of places to find it on the internet. And, just to get you started, here's a link to a page replete with graphs and even a gratuitous shot of Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko sucking on a big cigar.

It's not that Masked Momdoesn't care about numbers, it's just that she cares more about people. And have no doubt, there are lots and lots of people behind those numbers.

Some of those people are the ones who have loosely organized themselves into the "Occupy" movement. I say loosely since it has been commented upon repeatedly in the press that there seems to be no central organizing body behind the movement--just discontented people doing what they can to make a point.

In the beginning of the movement--before the concerns deepened to public health and safety4, one of the chief gripes heard from politicians and pundits was that the Occupy protesters had no coherent complaint, no clear list of demands. This baffled me. Maybe this is just "mom logic," but to me, their underlying message was extremely clear: "We exist. Pay attention."

Not surprisingly, my second favorite5 line of comments came from the same group of politicians and pundits who feigned such confusion about what the Occupy protesters stood for. Cries of "class warfare" came from all corners. The protesters were targeting the achievers, gunning for the job creators, undermining the upper class from which all good things, theoretically, trickle down.

On its surface, this accusation was absurd--it was clear, and only got clearer as things went along, that the protesters posed zero immediate threat to the status quo of the upper-class, high-achieving job creators. They were disorganized, after all, and completely lacking the resources to meet their alleged opponents on the traditional fields of battle--courtrooms, legislatures, the places where things actually get done. They could be (and were) dispersed as soon as their protests became too much of an inconvenience, er, threat to public health and safety.

Deeper down, the class warfare accusation becomes only more absurd and here's why. Class warfare absolutely exists in this country, but it is not peacefully protesting what you see as a long-standing imbalance in our economic system.

Class warfare is using the advantages you have--whether they are earned, bestowed, or the product of a seriously imbalanced system--to influence legislation to further tip the balance in your favor. Class warfare is pressing for deregulation and yammering on about smaller government while at the same time accepting ludicrous subsidies for yourself and your business. Class warfare is having not just enough, not even just more than enough, but more than you could spend in a lifetime and rather than being grateful, you do all that you can to get more, more, more, often at the expense of the very people (whether as labor or consumers) who contributed to your wealth in the first place. And class warfare is, most especially, blaming those people for the misfortune you not only may have had a hand in helping to create but, in some cases, actively benefited from.

One of the most high profile blame-the-poor-for-their-poverty remarks came, of course, from candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination Herman Cain, who said, in an interview, "Don't blame Wall Street, don't blame the big banks--if you don't have a job, if you're not rich, blame yourself."

While Cain's version garnered more attention and was, perhaps, blunter than most, the blame-the-poor stance is a popular one6. Blaming the "victim" is a useful strategy in many instances, first because it absolves us of any culpability as well as any moral responsibility to help to alleviate the problem. And second, because it offers us the illusion of immunity to a similar fate. In order to protect ourselves, all we need to do is avoid making the same mistakes those losers did.

In this case, those "mistakes" include such foolish errors in judgment as being born poor, choosing to toil away in a job market where hard work all too often equates to barely a subsistence wage, devoting yourself to the wrong company at the wrong moment in history, failing to anticipate the catastrophic illness of yourself or a family member for whom you are responsible and a whole host of other socioeconomic "choices" the more fortunate are largely unacquainted with.

The gap between the richest Americans and "the rest of us" is more than merely financial. And closing that gap seems essential to any lasting change in a system that, if not broken, at least works significantly better for the few than for the many.

If we can't close that gap by appealing to the compassion of those the Occupy movement refers to as the 1%--and it's evident based upon remarks like Cain's that we cannot--then we need to keep looking for another way. Common sense--the idea that what benefits the smallest among us benefits all of us, both in practical terms such as disposable income, and in more intangible ways such as a more stable society--seems to also fall on deaf ears. (Ears perhaps deafened by years of rah-rah cheering for a top-down economic theory that demonstrably has not worked as promised.)

So maybe the only tack left is to appeal to the one thing human beings in general and the wealthiest individuals in particular seem to have no shortage of: the instinct for self-preservation. If we can't sell changing the system with compassion or common sense, perhaps we can sell it as being in their best interests. Sooner or later, these other people who have worked so hard just to stay right where they are or maybe even to find themselves losing ground, these people who live, if they're lucky, from paycheck to paycheck--these 99%--are going to show up at the doors of the people they feel, rightly or wrongly, should've done more. Pushed to their limits, they may become the angry villagers of a hundred cliched movie scenes, wielding torches and pitchforks.

So far, we've been lucky--the pitchforks and torches have been figurative7. How long can that luck hold out?

1. Or not.

2. In my e-mail inbox this morning: news that the official unemployment rate dropped to its lowest in 2 1/2 years: 8.6%. You don't have to understand much about fancy economic theories to understand that a world in which an 8.6% unemployment rate is hailed as good news--Breaking News according to the LA Times--is a scary world indeed. Particularly when you take into consideration that that 8.6% includes only people who are still actively looking for work--not those who have given up completely or who are currently "underemployed" with part-time employment when they want or need full-time or employed in a much lower paying field than they are actually qualified for.

3. Masked Mom is also not the sort of blogger who routinely refers to herself in the third person and she promises not to do it again in this post.

4. How much of a threat these individuals posed to public health and safety is certainly up for debate--in some instances it seemed, admittedly from afar, that the issue was less a real health or safety threat and more a "Damn! You're really getting on our nerves!" issue, which became a "We have all the power--let's prove it." issue in far too many instances.

5. Where favorite is defined as "things that have an unparalleled ability to annoy the crap out of me."

6. Another popular stance (on both sides, I admit, but here's an example from only one) is juvenile name-calling. The Facebook Friend of a Facebook Friend of mine commented on my friend's status update ("Idealism dies a hard, bitter death.") with the remark:  "Idealism is the goal of mob rule. Just look at the Occutards." Not only was it mean-spirited, it was only tangentially related to the original status so, therefore, pointlessly and unnecessarily mean. (Pointless aside to an already pointless footnote: My response to "Idealism dies a hard, bitter death." was "Ah, but the parties you can have on its grave..."  And also? I could use some more cheerful Facebook Friends.)

7. The fact that literal weapons--pepper spray and billy clubs--were used in response to figurative ones (posterboard and tents) makes me literally sick to my stomach.


  1. This literally gave me goosebumps. You have managed to sum up a lot of the whirling nonsense in my brain the last several months. Thank you. I think another of the "mistakes" that you left off was choosing to do a job that helps the "lesser" people in society (children, the elderly, the mentally ill, the homeless, etc.) ain't nobody getting rich off of social work. I suppose that's their own fault, too.
    Also, re: name calling. A friend of mine was called (among other things)a "libtard". Don't get me started on the utter inappropriateness of adding "tard" to things to make it an insult. But the word was so ridiculous it could only conjure images of Ted Kennedy in a leotard.
    I think I might print this post out and distribute it with my Christmas cards.

  2. I can't even begin to tell you just how awestruck I am by this post. Well done.

    The more I see and hear from the government, corporations, the media, and, frankly, people I know insulting the Occupy movement, the more sick I get.

  3. This. Wow, this. I admit I haven't paid much attention to the news relating to the Occupy movement because -- well, because I don't pay much attention to the news at all. I've heard of it, I've even seen a small bit of it in downtown Austin on Thanksgiving morning. I have done some of my own research on various websites to learn the basics of what the Occupy movement is and who the 1% and the 99% are. This post sums up my feelings on things as I understand them. Well done.

    As for Herman Cain, please let him just stop talking.

    The name calling and personal attacks always ticks me off. Our society doesn't disagree with another person's point. That person is clearly just stupid. While that may indeed be true in some cases, name calling only damages the name caller, in my opinion. If you can't stand on your own without insulting the opposition, then your position is simply weak, period.

    S. Stauss: the image of Ted Kennedy in a leotard may just carry me through the next 5 days. ;-)

  4. Just wanted to say that your comments gave me goosebumps--I really appreciate you taking the time to say such nice and supportive things.

    SS--You are completely right about choosing compassionate careers being a "mistake" in the eyes of some. And it makes me a little insane how little we value those careers (and not just because I've found myself in one). As for the Kennedy/leotard image--I'm with M, that's worth a few days of giddiness.

    Jane--Thanks again!!!

    M--I heard a rumor today that Cain was "suspending" his campaign so here's hoping if he's not going to stop talking we can at least hear a little less about what he has to say. And of course, I couldn't agree more about the name calling stuff.