Third Coast Pillory: Politicians and Rhetorical Tricks

Photo by Ged Carroll | CC BY 2.0

Photo by Ged Carroll | CC BY 2.0

When discussing policy, a sensible question to ask is, policy for who? Language is riddled with this problem. We may all speak the same one, but not necessarily the same way. So, when a politician says something about this or that policy benefitting the “American people”, they may not be making a universal claim about who makes up the “American people”. Are you one who counts?

Frankly, much of the time they are discussing a miniscule part of the population, the oligarchy, representing it as the will of the people. For instance, take this as a quintessential case:

“We need to undo many regulations which have stifled investment in American businesses, and restore oversight of the financial industry in a way that does not harm American workers.”

Here, the rhetorical trick is to make business interest the same as worker interest, even though we know this is far from the case. As I discussed in my last post, and laid out by Piketty, Marx, and Smith, owners and workers do not have the same interest. Actually, the increasing profit of owners is dependent largely on the depressed wages of workers and the riches’ lower taxes. Hence, inequality goes up when finance is able to increase its rate of returns, which is not dependent on the increasing wellbeing of workers. Thus, deregulating finance for workers is a contradiction, a fantasy solution.

Think of it this way, according to economist Edward N. Wolff at New York University, in 2010 the richest 10% of the population owned 81% of all stock, and only around half of the US population owned stock. That is, almost a majority of the country are not aided by deregulating finance, and really it is just concentrated wealth that benefits. It is because of this that the claim “does not harm American workers” both affirms no benefit for workers, at the same time that it is purporting to provide one by, I assume, un-stifling investment. It treats workers’ interests as similar to capitalist interest, while really offering nothing to workers.

Or, let us ask ourselves, who actually benefits from the demonization of migrants? A capitalist wants cheap labor that doesn’t resist discipline. They want a pliant workforce they can easily coerce. When workers demonize other workers it benefits capitalists, because the demonization justifies state violence against migrant workers. Thus, they become cheaper and more exploitable, which then also makes citizen workers cheaper and more exploitable. As such, no worker ever benefits from the demonization of other workers, wherever they come from or their migration status.

So, it is clear, a policy doesn’t benefit everyone. Instead, policy in capitalist society is directed at aiding specific classes who have competing interests. Certain policies, such as immigration controls and financial deregulation, benefit capitalists and harm workers, even while being presented as beneficial to workers. This is nothing more than rhetorical tricks by the greatest actors the world has ever known, politicians. Instead, you, discerning reader, should always ask, “Cui bono?”

Andrew Smolski is a writer and sociologist.