Bam Bam Bamboozled

It was a growing season for the record books, globally the hottest since we’ve been measuring such things: Featuring too much heat and too much rain—— nearly a year’s worth over one summer. And as a capper, Covid came calling again. My wife caught it and so I tended to the customers at the vegetable stand.

One cucumber consumer of roughly my vintage sought to draw me out on a couple of issues because, you see, I’ve been somewhat….. errrrr….. publicly “engaged” over the decades with political discussions locally and if pressed, usually say what comes to mind. Sometimes folks have tarred me as a “liberal”—— a label I utterly reject.

“A liberal,” is usually “a person who leaves the room when the fight starts,” or “someone who won’t take his own side in an argument.”  Former Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower used to quip that there’s “nothing in the middle-of-the-road but yellow lines and dead Armadillos.”  He also counseled: “My mother used to tell me that two wrongs don’t make a right, But I soon figured out that three left turns do.”

So when the cuke-seeker insisted that America’s problem was too much money going to the unworthy, I gently resisted. He wasn’t suggesting that the “unworthy” were the corporate CEOs, Wall Street grifters, or the demonic arms peddlers. Otherwise, we’d have been in agreement. No. The problem, he insisted was allegedly over-compensated plebeians insufficiently enthusiastic about renting themselves to capital.

Since there are currently a number of strikes going on here in “The Frozen Republic” (see Dan Lazare’s great book)  I brought up the autoworkers’ contract dispute.

Recently, Newsweek (9/18/23) published a statement by Will Lehman, a worker at Mack Trucks, Macungie, Pennsylvania, and a 2022 candidate for the United Auto Workers presidency.

Lehman wrote, “Workers’ wages at Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis have declined dramatically over the past 50 years. In 1973, autoworkers received an hourly wage of $5.54 an hour——more than $38 an hour in today’s dollars. If that wage had merely kept up with inflation (setting aside the massive increases in productivity over that time), autoworkers would be making over $40 an hour today.”

“But today temporary workers at GM start at $16.67 and top out at $20, half as much as workers five decades ago.”

This is a downward mobility shared by workers across the land, and it is a largely bipartisan political project usually presented by media and the punditocracy as just another working out of “market forces” and the “invisible hand” of same.

Reaganite deep-thinkers proposed deregulating business and crushing the power of labor. They argued that the increasing wealth of the business class would “trickle down” to those who actually did the work of the country. Obviously, that wealth has instead been vacuumed up into the un-calloused, well-manicured fingers of American oligarchs. And we have the declining life expectancies, the homeless encampments, and the societal malaise/ simmering rage to prove it.

Will Lehman continues: “Another comparison, GM CEO Mary Barra received a $28.9 million compensation package in 2022. She made approximately $2.4 million a month, $550,000 a week, $110,000 a day, or an ‘hourly’ rate of nearly $13,800. It would take a temporary worker making $20 an hour almost three years to make as much as Barra does in a single day……The difference between the two, however, is that every penny of Barra’s pay package is ultimately derived from the value produced by the working class.”

Barra’s case is rather typical in the US. As the Economic Policy Institute has pointed out….. “the CEO-to-worker compensation ratio rose to 236-to-1 in 2021, significantly lower than its peak of 393-to-1 in 2000 but still many times higher than the 44-to-1 ratio of 1989 or the 15-to-1 ratio of 1965.” In the 1960s GM’s CEO had to content himself with making maybe 15 times what line workers earned. But he got by and we had a better country —— not the one of today which teeters on the precipice of failed-statedom.

This is getting hard to miss.  Lehman concludes: “Capitalism is showing masses of workers that it is at war with their basic needs. Inflation, the unrestrained transmission of COVID-19, deadly working conditions, the climate crisis, and the threat of nuclear war are confronting workers all over the world.”

But as Lehman suggests, people will have to figure this out for themselves. Workers in America rarely have the basic economic facts presented to them by the political or chattering classes. Instead, they are engulfed in a  meta-media landscape of Smackdowns, cheesy pop/ sports “pageantry,” and gravely presented (though cartoonish) characterizations of other nations and their leaders.

Such a bamboozled citizenry is perhaps unlikely to be able to wisely govern itself, in the unlikely event——and against all constitutional odds—— it ever got the chance.

Richard Rhames is a dirt-farmer in Biddeford, Maine (just north of the Kennebunkport town line). He can be reached at: