Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Mother of All Wars

It’s a new war, another in the unbroken string of wars that have captured our collective imagination since the end of World War II.

There was the Cold War, the War on Poverty, the War on Crime, the War on Drugs and the Global War on Terror.

However, this new war is different from the others. Previous “wars” were announced with a great deal of hoopla and spin. We were assured that this war was the beginning of the end for communism, poverty, crime, drugs and terrorism, all of which are still with us.

The new war, the War on Middle Class Prosperity, is an insurgent action, conducted with little fanfare and even less transparency. Its metanarrative is that the many must suffer and sacrifice so the few may prosper.

The unspoken argument goes like this: The postwar prosperity of the fifties and the sixties was a fluke for two reasons. At the end of World War II, the United States was the only industrial power that hadn’t been bombed into oblivion. Coupled with that was the fact that all those workers in the war industry had been earning big bucks and had no place to spend them because of rationing.

With the end of the war, they began to spend, spend, spend. American industry was working 24/7. Everything boomed, everybody prospered, except the poor who didn’t count.

Alas, it has all come to an end. The factories are shuttered, the middle class is tapped out and the party is over. We are in the midst of a great devolution.

There’s one gaping hole in this narrative. If we are going through an economic contraction, then it should be across the board, it should touch all classes, from the richest to the poorest.

Okay, so how many CEOs are selling their villas in the south of France? How many mega yachts are on the block? Instead of an across the board devolution, we are seeing an upward movement of capital to our kleptrocracy, a movement they tell us is necessary to create jobs. And jobs are created—in China, in Mexico, in India and anywhere where the desperate poor are willing to work for pennies.

In the prosperity that followed World War II, our oligarchs made a painful discovery—a viable middle class is a pain in the ass. It agitated for civil rights; it marched against nuclear weapons; it demonstrated against the wars that were so necessary to keep our economy strong; its children gave us the terrors of the sixties with its love, sex and drugs.

How wonderful it would be if that class could only vanish. That proved to be easy enough. Globalize. Send their high paying jobs overseas. Any reform movement is a child of job security. People who live in fear of losing their jobs and their benefits are not going to rock the boat. Instead, they will sit quietly and grasp the gunnels even as the boat nears the falls.

And this silence is enforced by making the poor souls feel guilty for have dared to live so well.

They should have known better.

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