FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Plight of Labor on the Campaign Trail

With Barack Obama and Mitt Romney trading barbs over the outsourcing of jobs, the facts are that Mr. Obama has repeatedly given full-throated endorsement to the neo-liberal policies behind outsourcing. And Mr. Romney has actually outsourced jobs through his business at Bain Capital.  That both men are cynical opportunists whose actions demonstrate wanton disregard for the plight of working people is aided by the invisibility of the unemployed in the national discourse. But just because the plight of labor is missing from the conversation doesn’t mean it is missing in fact.

With no help in the works from the Federal or local governments, the question is: where will the jobs come from? As economist Jared Bernstein explains (link), small businesses never created that large a proportion of jobs in the first place—even if they did have customers they couldn’t hire enough unemployed to solve the problem. And large corporations are earning record profits without hiring more workers. With profits driving executive paychecks, count on large companies firing, not hiring, for the foreseeable future.

Any honest count of the unemployed arrives at numbers indicating serious economic depression. Demographics (aging population) aside, when those who have involuntarily left the workforce are added to the actively unemployed and underemployed, a bit over twenty-percent of working age adults stand substantially idle.

Since the economic ‘recovery’ began in 2009, all income gains have gone to the top one-percent of income earners (link). With the rich having recovered lost income and wealth thanks to the all-out efforts of the Federal government and the Federal Reserve to revive the financial economy, the rich are doing as well as they ever have. (The purposeful abandonment of the poor and working classes found theoretical support when Barack Obama proclaimed early in his tenure that people were unemployed because of ‘productivity gains.’ Louis 16th is smiling in his grave).

The bottom 99% of working Americans saw economic depression level income declines in 2008 and have seen no recovery. The jobs that have been created are largely part-time in low-wage industries and most provide few, if any, benefits. In social terms, in a society that defines its social roles by occupation, unemployment and underemployment are modern forms of exile. In macroeconomic terms, the Keynesian mechanics of the vicious circle, where economic weakness begets more economic weakness, are underway. The fact is that action, for better or worse, is in the process of being forced on to tens of millions of unemployed and poor people whose options are severely limited by current circumstance.

The political backdrop has Barack Obama and Mitt Romney trading contrived talking points over the outsourcing of jobs. The liberal response has been to reiterate endorsements of laissez-faire (neo-liberal) capitalism, such as the current system of state welfare for a tiny economic elite is called, while suggesting that said economic elite should voluntarily share their ‘good fortune’ with society’s losers for the sake of humanity (link). That neo-liberal policies have gone hand-in-glove with the abandonment of welfare state economics makes a mockery of such pleading.

Meanwhile, the actual economic policy backdrop for the economic elite hasn’t been nearly so downbeat. Following the delivery of several trillion dollars in free money to corrupt stooges in the banks in 2008, the Federal Reserve has staged six (count ‘em) full or partial efforts at salving the financial economy through asset purchases. And the banks have remained unregulated to the point where they have successfully rebuilt the cross-relationships that brought the whole system down just four short years ago. So contrary to liberal rants that the global economy is a fixed object that must be accepted for what it is, the Federal government has demonstrated just how flexible it is by reviving the fortunes of 1% of the population while leaving the rest to rot.

In the midst of the gloom, current circumstance should offer the opportunity to radically rethink what the economy and economic life should be. The Western political economy really wasn’t working for an increasing number of people before the most recent crisis. In addition to being environmentally unsustainable, the capitalist way of life—maximum consumption and social atomism, was increasingly seen lacking in polls taken of American youth. However, please take note: no one in power is asking the bottom 99% for input into the development of public policies. So much or the illusion of ‘democracy.’

A casual look around America may suggest hyperbole in these words. The West has great residual wealth that has allowed record numbers of unemployed youth to live with their families. Retirement plans (401(k)s) have been borrowed against to the extent that one-third of these retirement funds have been used for current use. Municipal finance strategies are to take from the future through privatization of public resources to provide the illusion of solvency in the present. And home delivery of unemployment benefit checks has saved politicians the embarrassment of media images of long lines of the unemployed in ‘their’ precincts. But this is all running out.

So, what to do? First, a few facts: in their minds the lot of the economic and political elite is tied to that of the 99% by the threat of revolution alone. The state has been (always was) captured and works to keep those in power who benefit from the current state of affairs. Those who look to Barack Obama’s second term, should he win one, for salvation are deluded. (How’s that first term thing going for you)? It is not an accident that the economic elite is doing well while the rest of us aren’t—it is a fundamental characteristic of capitalism. And to the one-half of America that believes that they either already are in the top 1% economically or one day will be, your politics are defined by what you don’t know about income distribution, not what you do know.

As residual wealth and options run out for increasing numbers, people may want to consider this—as scandal and history have demonstrated, the economic elites didn’t ‘earn’ their wealth, they just took it. From the taking of common lands in the enclosure movement to the use of public (military) resources to support private interests to the bank bailouts to cost-plus government contracting to the private use of public research and development (tech, pharma), the myths of capitalist enterprise don’t accurately describe history. In the land of abandoned houses and massive waste in the industrial food system, not going homeless or hungry should be a practical decision, not a moral one.

The lack of viability of the existing political economy is being demonstrated with increasing frequency and intensity. The presidential election is an irrelevant circus because a self-perpetuating economic elite runs the U.S. The only real politics that remain to most of us reside outside of the electoral system. Finally, systems of mutual aid and a retaking of the commons will be necessary steps until political resolution is achieved.

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist in New York.

More articles by:

Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.

April 19, 2018
Ramzy Baroud
Media Cover-up: Shielding Israel is a Matter of Policy
Vijay Prashad
Undermining Brazilian Democracy: the Curious Saga of Lula
Steve Fraser
Class Dismissed: Class Conflict in Red State America
John W. Whitehead
Crimes of a Monster: Your Tax Dollars at Work
Kenn Orphan
Whistling Past the Graveyard
Karl Grossman TJ Coles
Opening Pandora’s Box: Karl Grossman on Trump and the Weaponization of Space
Colin Todhunter
Behind Theresa May’s ‘Humanitarian Hysterics’: The Ideology of Empire and Conquest
Jesse Jackson
Syrian Strikes is One More step Toward a Lawless Presidency
Michael Welton
Confronting Militarism is Early Twentieth Century Canada: the Woman’s International League for Peace and Freedom
Alycee Lane
On David S. Buckel and Setting Ourselves on Fire
Jennifer Matsui
Our Overlords Reveal Their Top ‘To Do’s: Are YOU Next On Their Kill List?
George Ochenski
Jive Talkin’: On the Campaign Trail With Montana Republicans
Kary Love
Is It Time for A Nice, “Little” Nuclear War?
April 18, 2018
Alan Nasser
Could Student Loans Lead to Debt Prison? The Handwriting on the Wall
Susan Roberts
Uses for the Poor
Alvaro Huerta
I Am Not Your “Wetback”
Jonah Raskin
Napa County, California: the Clash of Oligarchy & Democracy
Robert Hunziker
America’s Dystopian Future
Geoffrey McDonald
“America First!” as Economic War
Jonathan Cook
Robert Fisk’s Douma Report Rips Away Excuses for Air Strike on Syria
Jeff Berg
WW III This Ain’t
Binoy Kampmark
Macron’s Syria Game
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia’s Top Cop Defends Indefensible Prejudice in Starbucks Arrest Incident
Katie Fite
Chaos in Urban Canyons – Air Force Efforts to Carve a Civilian Population War Game Range across Southern Idaho
Robby Sherwin
Facebook: This Is Where I Leave You
April 17, 2018
Paul Street
Eight Takeaways on Boss Tweet’s Latest Syrian Missile Spasm
Robert Fisk
The Search for the Truth in Douma
Eric Mann
The Historic 1968 Struggle Against Columbia University
Roy Eidelson
The 1%’s Mind Games: Psychology Gone Bad
John Steppling
The Sleep of Civilization
Patrick Cockburn
Syria Bombing Reveals Weakness of Theresa May
Dave Lindorff
No Indication in the US That the Country is at War Again
W. T. Whitney
Colombia and Cuba:  a Tale of Two Countries
Dean Baker
Why Isn’t the Median Wage for Black Workers Rising?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia’s Top Cop Defends Indefensible Prejudice in Starbucks Arrest Incident
C. L. Cook
Man in the Glass
Kary Love
“The Mob Boss Orders a Hit and a Pardon”
Lawrence Wittner
Which Nations Are the Happiest―and Why
Dr. Hakim
Where on Earth is the Just Economy that Works for All, Including Afghan Children?
April 16, 2018
Dave Lindorff
President Trump’s War Crime is Worse than the One He Accuses Assad of
Ron Jacobs
War is Just F**kin’ Wrong
John Laforge
Nuclear Keeps on Polluting, Long After Shutdown
Norman Solomon
Missile Attack on Syria Is a Salute to “Russiagate” Enthusiasts, Whether They Like It or Not
Uri Avnery
Eyeless in Gaza   
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Then, Syria Now
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail