The Boom Was a Bust For Ordinary People
By Barbara Ehrenreich Sunday, February 3, 2008; B01
I t begins to sound a bit naughty -- all this talk about the need to "stimulate" the economy, as if we were discussing how to make a porn film. I don't mean to trivialize our economic difficulties or the need for effective government intervention, but we have to face a disconcerting fact: For years now, that strange stimulus-crazed beast, the economy, has been going its own way, increasingly disconnected from the toils and troubles of ordinary Americans.
. . . I first began to sense this in the boom years of the late 1990s, when I was working in entry-level jobs for my book "Nickel and Dimed." While the stock market soared and fortunes were being made in the time it takes to say "IPO," my $6-to-$8-an-hour co-workers lunched on hot dog buns because that was all they could afford and, in some cases, fretted about whether they could find a safe place to sleep.
. . . Not that we hadn't been warned. A century ago, Henry Ford realized that his company would only prosper if his own workers earned enough to buy Fords. But, like Wal-Mart, too many of our employers today haven't figured out that their cruelly low wages would eventually curtail their own growth and profits.
A brutally frank and honest assessment of our past 30 years. There is little hope for the credit addicted working poor but a '29 style crash.
The War on Drugs fights a supposed enemy that is not a 10th as damaging as the deliberate hooking of America on that other drug of choice (now necessity) easy credit.
It's note even easy credit--for thirty years it's been necessary credit as real wages and decent jobs shifted underfoot like sand. Every single economic choice during those 30 years, between the welfare of people and the welfare of greed, has been settled in favor of greed.
A Congress that will not vote in a decent minimum wage, allows 18% interest on credit purchases that jump to 30% if a single payment is late.
A Congress that will not vote in a decent minimum wage, tightens bankruptcy laws in favor of the lender.
A Congress that will not vote in a decent minimum wage, votes $3 trillion in tax benefits to the already rich and strips its people of health care, threatens their social security and makes of us a 'temp agency' society.
A Congressman who will not and has not voted in a decent minimum wage, answers a query as to why this is possible with a computer-generated response that he 'shares my concern and will take my position into account as economic issues develop.'
Meanwhile, our increasing downward spiral into subsistence wages forces an actual wall between America and Mexico, so desperately poor Mexicans do not interfere with the jobs of newly desperately poor Americans. Immigration is a hot-button issue, not to improve the relentless American slide into poverty, but to protect it.
While Henry Ford paid his workers a wage upon which they could buy his car, Wal-Mart provides a stumbling existence dependent on the 'shoot yourself up' credit-card fed borrowing habit promoted by your friendly, usurious local bank. The new paradigm offers a subsistence life on seven maxed-out credit-cards, grabs 18% off the top for itself and smilingly advises its addicts to not leave home without it.
The poor were once left alone to be poor. Now they, and an increasing portion of the former middle class, are everyone's financial victim. The cancer of desperation is spreading from the have-nots to the once-had-somes.
All of which supports $100 million annual salaries on Wall Street for CEOs who brought us sub-prime mortgage fraud and seem to want us to pick up the pieces.
Tell me how a cave-in Congress or pseudo-populist president is equipped (or motivated) to change that.
They think (and are paid to think) that a 'stimulus package' can make America well again after 30 years of wage and job destruction. We are privileged to participate in the new and improved Viagra Nation.
I wonder what Henry Ford would have thought of that.