Article 43

 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Desperate Times, Desperate People II

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“People ask me all the time why we don’t have a revolution in America, or at least a major wave of reform similar to that of the Progressive Era or the New Deal or the Great Society—given that middle incomes are sinking, the ranks of the poor are swelling, and almost all the economic gains are going to the top. The answer is complex, but three reasons stand out: (1) The working class is paralyzed with fear it will lose the jobs and wages it already has, and its major vehicle for organizing itself—labor unions—have been decimated; (2) students (who have been in years past a force for social change) are laden with debt and face a lousy jobs market, and don’t want to rock the boat; and (3) the American public has become so cynical about government (in large part due to Republican tactics) that many no longer believe reform is possible. Have I left anything out? Has the right been so clever as to target unions, ensure high employment, pile on student debt, and seed cynicism precisely to prevent such a movement for fundamental reform? How will this end?”
- Robert Reich

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Why There’s No Outcry

By Robert Reich
January 25, 2014

People ask me all the time why we don’t have a revolution in America, or at least a major wave of reform similar to that of the Progressive Era or the New Deal or the Great Society.

Middle incomes are sinking, the ranks of the poor are swelling, almost all the economic gains are going to the top, and big money is corrupting our democracy. So why isn’t there more of a ruckus?

The answer is complex, but three reasons stand out.

First, the working class is paralyzed with fear it will lose the jobs and wages it already has.

In earlier decades, the working class fomented reform. The labor movement led the charge for a minimum wage, 40-hour workweek, unemployment insurance, and Social Security.

No longer. Working people don’t dare. The share of working-age Americans holding jobs is now lower than at any time in the last three decades and 76 percent of them are living paycheck to paycheck.

No one has any job security. The last thing they want to do is make a fuss and risk losing the little they have.

Besides, their major means of organizing themselves—labor UNIONS—have been DECIMATED. Four decades ago more than a third of private-sector workers were unionized. Now, fewer than 7 percent belong to a union.

Second, students don’t dare rock the boat.

In prior decades students were a major force for social change. They played an active role in the Civil Rights movement, the Free Speech movement, and against the Vietnam War.

But today’s students don’t want to make a ruckus. They’re laden with debt. Since 1999, student debt has increased more than 500 percent, yet the average starting salary for graduates has dropped 10 percent, adjusted for inflation. Student debts can’t be cancelled in bankruptcy. A default brings penalties and ruins a credit rating.

To make matters worse, the job market for new graduates remains lousy. Which is why record numbers are still living at home.

Reformers and revolutionaries don’t look forward to living with mom and dad or worrying about credit ratings and job recommendations.

Third and finally, the American public has become so cynical about government that many no longer think reform is possible.

When asked if they believe government will do the right thing most of the time, fewer than 20 percent of Americans agree. Fifty years ago, when that question was first asked on standard surveys, more than 75 percent agreed.

It’s hard to get people worked up to change society or even to change a few laws when they don’t believe government can possibly work.

You’d have to believe in a giant conspiracy to think this was all the doing of the forces in America most resistant to positive social change.

It’s possible. of course, that they intentionally cut jobs and wages so much as to cow average workers, buried students under so much debt they’d never take to the streets, and made most Americans so cynical about government they wouldn’t even try to for change.

But it’s more likely they merely allowed all this to unfold, like a giant wet blanket over the outrage and indignation most Americans feel but don’t express.

Change is coming anyway. We cannot abide an ever-greater share of the nation’s income and wealth going to the top while median household incomes continue too drop, one out of five of our children living in dire poverty, and big money taking over our democracy.

At some point, working people, students, and the broad public will have had enough. They will reclaim our economy and our democracy. This has been the central lesson of American history.

Reform is less risky than revolution, but the longer we wait the more likely it will be the latter.

SOURCE

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Red-State Voters Are Paralyzed by Economic Anxieties
The usual explanation is that economic issues are trumped by social and cultural issues like guns, abortion and race. But there’s something else.

By Robert Reich
January 17, 2014

Last weeks massive spill of the toxic chemical MCHM into West Virginia’s Elk River illustrates another benefit to the business class of high unemployment, economic insecurity, and a safety-net shot through with holes. Not only are employees eager to accept whatever job they can get. They are also also unwilling to demand healthy and safe environments.

The spill was the regions third major chemical accident in five years, coming after two investigations by the federal Chemical Safety Board in the Kanawha Valley, also known as “Chemical Valley,” and repeated recommendations from federal regulators and environmental advocates that the state embrace tougher rules to better safeguard chemicals. 

No action was ever taken. State and local officials turned a deaf ear. The storage tank that leaked, owned by Freedom Industries, hadnt been inspected for decades.

But nobody complained.

Not even now, with the toxins moving down river toward Cincinnati, can the residents of Charleston and the surrounding area be sure their drinking water is safe - partly because the governments calculation for safe levels is based on a single study by the manufacturer of the toxic chemical, which was never published, and partly because the West Virginia American Water Company, which supplies the drinking water, is a FOR-PROFIT corporation that may not want to highlight any lingering danger. 

So why wasn’t more done to prevent this, and why isnt there more of any outcry even now?

The answer isn’t hard to find. As Maya Nye, president of People Concerned About Chemical Safety, a citizens group formed after a 2008 explosion and fire killed workers at West Virginia’s Bayer CropScience plant in the state, EXPLAINED to the New York Times: We are SO DESPERATE for jobs in West Virginia we don’t want to do anything that pushes industry out.

Exactly.

I often heard the same refrain when I headed the U.S. Department of Labor. When we sought to impose a large fine on the Bridgestone-Firestone Tire Company for flagrantly disregarding workplace safety rules and causing workers at one of its plants in Oklahoma to be maimed and killed, for example, the community was solidly behind us - that is, until Bridgestone-Firestone threatened to close the plant if we didn’t back down.

The threat was enough to ignite a storm of opposition to the proposed penalty from the very workers and families we were trying to protect. (We didn’t back down and Bridgestone-Firestone didn’t carry out its threat, but the political fallout was intense.)

For years political scientists have wondered why so many working class and poor citizens of so-called “red states” vote against their economic self-interest. The usual explanation is that, for these voters, economic issues are trumped by social and cultural issues like guns, abortion, and race.

I’m not so sure. The wages of production workers have been dropping for thirty years, adjusted for inflation, and their economic security has disappeared. Companies can and do shut down, sometimes literally overnight. A smaller share of working-age Americans hold jobs today than at any time in more than three decades.

People are so desperate for jobs they don’t want to rock the boat. They don’t want rules and regulations enforced that might cost them their livelihoods. For them, a job is precious sometimes even more precious than a safe workplace or safe drinking water.

This is especially true in poorer regions of the country like West Virginia and through much of the South and rural America - so-called “red” states where the old working class has been voting Republican. Guns, abortion, and race are part of the explanation. But don’t overlook economic anxieties that translate into a willingness to vote for whatever it is that industry wants.

This may explain why Republican officials who have been casting their votes against unions, against expanding Medicaid, against raising the minimum wage, against extended unemployment insurance, and against jobs bills that would put people to work, continue to be elected and re-elected. They obviously have the support of corporate patrons who want to keep unemployment high and workers insecure because a pliant working class helps their bottom lines. But they also, paradoxically, get the votes of many workers who are clinging so desperately to their jobs that they’e afraid of change and too cowed to make a ruckus.

The best bulwark against corporate irresponsibility is a strong and growing middle class. But in order to summon the political will to achieve it, we have to overcome the timidity that flows from economic desperation. Its a diabolical chicken-and-egg conundrum at a the core of American politics today.

Robert B. Reich has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He also served on President Obama’s transition advisory board. His latest book is Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future.

SOURCE

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Posted by Elvis on 01/18/14 •
Section Revelations • Section Dying America
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