FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

What’s Really Behind the Election

You don’t have to be a poet to breathe new possibilities into an old, familiar metaphor.  Recently, for example, author and New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman took a well-worn metaphor – the “web” – and reworked it in such a way as to recast the terms of the current presidential campaigns.  His take is both provocative and wrong.

In a Times column entitled, “Web People vs. Wall People” (July 27), Friedman declared that the election isn’t so much about Democrats and Republicans as it is about a struggle between what he calls “web people” and “wall people.”  The wall people, Friedman argued, seek shelter from the winds of change:  from new technologies that continue to replace jobs; from cultural changes brought by new immigrants settling into old neighborhoods; and from continued threats of violence echoing from terrorist attacks around the world.  Seeking a sense of stability and community, they turn to a candidate like Donald Trump, who promises them barriers and walls that can shield them from change.

By contrast, “web people” embrace change and the ongoing learning necessary to flourish in a rapidly transforming world.  Threatened neither by immigration nor by the kind of “open society” that is propelled by “capitalism, free markets, and open trade,” web people have the potential to help a President Hillary Clinton usher in a vibrant future.

By offering this interpretation of the current presidential contest, Friedman also presented an updated and upbeat picture of the American dream – a picture of the qualities and fearless attitudes that will help individuals succeed in a rapidly changing world.  The problem, though, is that the picture doesn’t accord with the facts on the ground.

Consider, for example, an entity that can hardly be ignored in any discussion of global capitalism:  Walmart.  With its 1.5 million U.S. employees and 2.3 million employees worldwide, Walmart is the largest private employer in this country, and one of the largest employers in the world.  It’s 11,500 stores and its e-commerce in 11 countries earned the company $482.1 billion in total revenues this year, and it commands a global production chain that manufactures billions of dollars of merchandise, particularly clothing and fashion items, through its relations with factories in such countries as Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, and Indonesia.  If any company is web-like in its massive global reach, it is Walmart.  But the company hardly presents a picture of an “open system.”

Recently the company raised its minimum wage in the U.S., so that part-time workers make an average of $10.58 per hour, up from from $9.48 last year.  This raise came on the heels of widespread press coverage of Walmart employees receiving food stamps and other forms of government assistance in order to get by. High employee turnover, as well as pressure from political leaders and activist groups, were probably other significant factors that pushed against corporate foot-dragging. Yet even with the raise, thousands of part-time Walmart employees still struggle to get sufficient hours to pay their bills, and the new Walmart minimum scarcely comes close to the $15 an hour target seen by many as a living wage baseline today.

Walmart’s presence on the international stage is hardly more benign.  With its power to shift production from one supplier to another in various countries, Walmart can drive prices and wages down without bearing direct responsibility as the employer of record.  In Cambodia, for example, the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), an umbrella organization representing a broad coalition of trade unions and human rights organizations, reported that workers in factories supplying Walmart and other brands were being compensated at levels significantly below what constituted a living wage, i.e. a wage needed to sustain themselves and their families with the essentials of life. When Cambodian workers appealed directly to Walmart for higher wages, those appeals went unheeded, and a strike for a higher minimum wage was violently suppressed by the Cambodian government.

These facts throw into sharp relief the wealth of the Walton family, who collectively own about half the stock of the company.  Their wealth amounts to $130 billion, according to Forbes, and the vast disparity evokes more the world of Dickens’ Oliver Twist than it does Friedman’s utopian vision.   Some might argue that Walmart’s corporate behavior makes it an exception, albeit a massive one, to Friedman’s argument.  But no matter how benign or exploitative a company may be, the evidence still points to ever-growing inequalities at both the national and global levels.  We are looking at a rigged, rather than open, system.

Thomas L. Friedman may have picked an appropriate metaphor to express the global challenges facing us.  But his idea about a conflict between “web people” and “wall people” simply doesn’t square with the facts.  The real struggle is for dignity and rights:  for democratic values and for human rights in the workplace and in civil society.  This is the struggle that underlies the current election, and this is the struggle that will continue long after the last ballots are counted in November.

More articles by:
bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
January 27, 2020
Elliot Sperber
Sunset’s Soon
Weekend Edition
January 24, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
A Letter From Iowa
Jim Kavanagh
Aftermath: The Iran War After the Soleimani Assassination
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Camp by the Lake
Chuck Churchill
The Long History of Elite Rule: What Will It Take To End It?
Robert Hunziker
A Climate Time Bomb With Trump’s Name Inscribed
Andrew Levine
Trump: The King
Jess Franklin
Globalizing the War on Indigenous People: Bolsonaro and Modi
James Graham
From Paris, With Tear Gas…
Rob Urie
Why the Primaries Matter
Dan Bacher
Will the Extinction of Delta Smelt Be Governor Gavin Newsom’s Environmental Legacy?
Ramzy Baroud
In the Name of “Israel’s Security”: Retreating US Gives Israel Billions More in Military Funding
Vijay Prashad
What the Right Wing in Latin America Means by Democracy Is Violence
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Biden’s Shameful Foreign Policy Record Extends Well Beyond Iraq
Louis Proyect
Isabel dos Santos and Africa’s Lumpen-Bourgeoisie
Nick Pemberton
AK-46: The Case Against Amy Klobuchar
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Promtheus’ Fire: Climate Change in the Time of Willful Ignorance
Linn Washington Jr.
Waiting for Justice in New Jersey
Ralph Nader
Pelosi’s Choice: Enough for Trump’s Impeachment but not going All Out for Removal
Mike Garrity – Jason Christensen
Don’t Kill 72 Grizzly Bears So Cattle Can Graze on Public Lands
Joseph Natoli
Who’s Speaking?
Kavaljit Singh
The US-China Trade Deal is Mostly Symbolic
Cesar Chelala
The Coronavirus Serious Public Health Threat in China
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Must Remain Vigilant and on Guard Against US Hybrid Warfare
Robert Fantina
Impeachment as a Distraction
Courtney Bourgoin
What We Lose When We Lose Wildlife
Mark Ashwill
Why Constructive Criticism of the US is Not Anti-American
Daniel Warner
Charlie Chaplin and Truly Modern Times
Manuel Perez-Rocha
How NAFTA 2.0 Boosts Fossil Fuel Polluters, Particularly in Mexico
Dean Baker
What the Minimum Wage Would Be If It Kept Pace With Productivity
Mel Gurtov
India’s Failed Democracy
Thomas Knapp
US v. Sineneng-Smith: Does Immigration Law Trump Free Speech?
Winslow Myers
Turning Point: The new documentary “Coup 53”
Jeff Mackler
U.S. vs. Iran: Which Side are You On?
Sam Pizzigati
Braggadocio in the White House, Carcinogens in Our Neighborhoods
Christopher Brauchli
The Company Trump Keeps
Julian Vigo
Why Student Debt is a Human Rights Issue
Ramzy Baroud
These Chains Will Be Broken
Chris Wright
A Modest Proposal for Socialist Revolution
Thomas Barker
The Slow Death of European Social Democracy: How Corbynism Bucked the Trend
Nicky Reid
It’s Time to Bring the War Home Again
Michelle Valadez
Amy Klobuchar isn’t Green
David Swanson
CNN Poll: Sanders Is The Most Electable
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Our Dire Need for “Creative Extremists”—MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
Jill Richardson
‘Little Women’ and the American Attitude Toward Poverty
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail