Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The opportunity to think you have an opportunity

Seeing as how Colbert already covered it, I better get off my ass and get around to talking about the homeless who were taken to see "The Pursuit of Happyness" [sic] on the mayor's (I supposed taxpayers') dollar. From the Washington Post:
D.C. officials took a group of homeless people from city-run shelters to a special screening yesterday of the movie "The Pursuit of Happyness," hoping that the story of a single father's determination to make a home for his young son would encourage them in their struggles.

I think it's great they took some homeless out of the cold and into a dry martini a warm theater for some free entertainment, and I don't think they want the homeless to believe they can become millionaires ("We don't want people to think it's about becoming a millionaire" - homeless activist Arafa Speaks), but the theme of the movie does underly what makes America function. No, it's not an iron will, or hope in the face of adversity, or the ability to rise above your means; it's the idea that people can rise up when, in reality, it is far easier to fall downwards on the class scale.

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, explains the situation: "[E]ven though people are working harder than they ever have in their lives, they are not making it today." He says our society's class system is like a ladder, and the "middle rungs on that ladder are not there any longer."

Yes, many Americans spend frivolously, but all of us are a major illness or unforeseen job loss away from dropping down the ladder. Furthermore, the value of the dollar and of the wages we earn is pitiful, as the New York Times explained:
The median hourly wage for American workers has declined 2 percent since 2003, after factoring in inflation. The drop has been especially notable, economists say, because productivity — the amount that an average worker produces in an hour and the basic wellspring of a nation’s living standards — has risen steadily over the same period.

As a result, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation’s gross domestic product since the government began recording the data in 1947, while corporate profits have climbed to their highest share since the 1960’s. UBS, the investment bank, recently described the current period as "the golden era of profitability."

In other words, we work more for less, and the only people who benefit are on the highest rungs. As I mentioned earlier, Ford is seeking to reward its upper-management with bonuses after they had to endure the terrible ordeal of massive layoffs...of lower employees. It must be tough for them.

Some conservatives would tell you to suck it up and enjoy this modern world of ours - we have TiVo, iPods, and DVDs, for crying out loud! Who cares if you can't afford them? Roy Edroso breaks it down:
Grumpy liberals want you to live like 70s cavemen! If it were up to them, you wouldn't have Grand Theft Auto. So shut up and work, drone!

Neither Galt nor Winterspeak name the mechanism of action by which we trade purchasing power for mod cons. Maybe there's a Star Chamber of Commerce that decrees things like, "Allow us lay off 10,000 auto workers and make everyone in those communities work at McDonald's, and you can have Clarinex and flat-screen TVs."

More likely, they haven't thought of how it might work, but decided that a positive-sounding message was all the explanation anyone would ever need. This is America, after all, where no one likes a Gloomy Gus or a Negative Noam.

Ah well, working in America might suck, but we have all these cool toys! At least you don't have to pay any stinkin' unions! You sure showed your corporate superiors!

As America currently functions, we keep the upper class wealthy and the rest of us placated. We tolerate getting paid less (despite being productive), getting little vacation, receiving no benefits, and being treated like dirt because we believe maybe we can become wealthy, too. Maybe we'll hit the lotto or become a celebrity. If not, at least we can one day buy a plasma television or a cell phone that latches on our ear. The truth of the matter is, it's bullshit. The whole system we live under is bullshit. Americans refuse to see the situation they're in, so they don't demand the changes they need, and they don't work together to force the system to concede some simple, basic things. The gears keep our expense.

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