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The Age of Artifice

October 8, 2013

I don’t want to be rich,” Marsha said, “I just want to be able pay my bills.” As the camera reverses, her lone voice becomes a crowd shot, becoming a picture of America itself. Marsha’s a single woman in her fifties and the bank where she’d worked was small and her job was assisting mortgagors in keeping their homes. “I can’t do this again!” she cried, after she’d lost her job at A.I.G. in the collapse of 08. “I was lucky to find this job,” she explained. This small bank where she was employed was itself on the brink in 08. Through hard work and diligence, the bank was pulled back from the brink and as her reward, she was being laid off.

The executives and shareholders will turn a nice profit on someone else’s hard work. Some workers are being laid off while others retained, but among the workers being retained, is the nagging fear of retained for how long? Retained, until the big bank has wholly digested the small? Retained, until the customers get adjusted to the new corporate logo on the door? Then what? What do you do when there is nothing you can do? How do you deal with the stress of simple survival, when it’s not race or age or sex which hampers you but a total lack of jobs which pay a living wage?

Marsha’s bank was bought out by a larger bank because small banks can’t make any money in banking anymore. It is a historical replay of Steinbeck’s Great Depression journals, where the large fruit growers bought the cannery. Once they owned the cannery, they set the price of peaches. Once they owned the cannery, it was a simple matter to push the small growers off the land. With prices fixed so low, there was little money to pay wages. Too big to fail really means too small to survive.

If you had one dollar in 2008, thanks to the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing program, there are now four in its place. In part, the printing presses have been kept running to dilute the Wall Street banking loses, but there is also another reason. In a good month, the US trade debt is around $45 billion. Imagine a monopoly game where every time you pass go $500 is removed from the game. How long could you play, before all the money is gone? Interest rates must be kept artificially low, so that banks can borrow faster than their debts accrue, because there is no money to be made in banking, you must get bigger or go out of business.

So who can they lend money to, there is only one place where the economy is looking up and that’s on Wall Street. But ask yourself, how can Wall Street soar while Main Street struggles? The question answers itself, if there is only one venue earning a profit; it’s the only game in town. It’s like a highway dinner, if you want a cup of coffee and a cheeseburger at 2 AM, that’s where you go. It doesn’t matter if the coffee’s no good or the service is bad. It doesn’t matter if shares are overpriced; they’re being purchased with borrowed money. They own the cannery and they’ve set the price of peaches.

George W. Bush ran for re-election, boasting of the “Ownership Society” and after the housing bubble burst, Barack Obama called those same people, “irresponsible consumers.” It’s a heads I win, tails you lose scenario. The housing bubble wasn’t a catastrophe, like Hurricane Katrina or the Loma Prieta earthquake; it wasn’t a disaster, it was a robbery! Incoming Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, promises the banks they’ll be reimbursed for their losses at 100 cents on the dollar; almost five years later — 10 million Americans foreclosed on and evicted.

Their property deeds passed to the troubled asset relief program where they were re-bundled and sold for 22 cents on the dollar, auctioned off to the same banks which had just been paid 100 cents on the dollar. The banks were allowed to buy these properties with nothing down and zero percent interest; but there’s a kicker. If the bank didn’t make a profit on the property in two years, the Federal government promised to give them a rebate on the purchase price. If, however, the bank did show a profit, they would be required to share it with the government. It is a theft unrivaled in human history.

The going rate for an industrial worker on the world market is about $5.00 per day. The starting wage for a college graduate in America today is nothing. Last month, the administration claimed 169,000 new jobs were created. Last month, there were nearly 30 million Americans unemployed or under employed, struggling to get by on perforated part-time wages, food stamps and unemployment benefits. Last month, the number of Americans actually employed, fell by 115,000 as the number of Americans classified as no longer in the workforce rose by half a million.

Someone makes a profit on that $45 billion leaving our economy each month. Wal-Mart, Microsoft, clothing retailers, car companies and oil companies, as 40% of those dollars are for oil imports. It’s why the Obama administration’s energy policy has been, frack baby, frack. There has been too little effort on the part of the Obama administration to address the unemployment problem, other than with tax cuts. There has been a concerted effort to hide the problem, to sweep it under the rug, covering it up by gaming the numbers, but like the Monopoly Game, it can’t go on forever.

It would be simple enough to point the finger of blame at Republicans or at Democrats; in fact, it’s encouraged. What Barack Obama said or what John Boehner said is no different than Miley Cyrus twerking. It’s simply a partisan media event, a good guys and bad guys photo-op; right-wingers tuned into Fox and left-wingers tuned into MSNBC, all owned by the same small group of people. This is a new kind of government: you elected Gore and you got Bush; you elected Obama and got… Bush.

It is a government which should be put on trial for high crimes and misdemeanors. Besides war crimes, they’ve recklessly destroyed the job market, the housing market and the banking industry, in order to line their pockets and control the price of peaches. With 169,000 new jobs created last month, it means your chances of finding employment in America stand at 1 in a 177. The atomic age has given way to the space age, the computer age and now, the age of artifice.

Unhappy events abroad have retaught us two simple truths about the liberty of a democratic people. The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic State itself. That, in its essence, is fascism — ownership of government by an individual, by a group or by any other controlling private power.

The second truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way as to sustain an acceptable standard of living. Both lessons hit home. Among us today a concentration of private power without equal in history is growing. – Franklin Delano Roosevelt.



About the author: David Glenn Cox is a senior staff writer for TLR and an award winning author and musician; he is the author of the novel, “The Servants of Pilate.”



2 Responses to The Age of Artifice

  1. jamese on October 19, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    Signs of a declinig empire. The working class schlubs who support the Tea Party are being played for fools. Exporting jobs has been one of the most profitable pursuits of big business in American. Profitable for the few; a disaster for the rest of us.

  2. SteveH on October 19, 2013 at 6:16 pm

    The rule in America is: the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It’s the new normal; but not so new. It really started in the 80s with Reagan and his merry band of free market zealots and military imperialists. While they were unleashing fascist regimes all over the world, and supporting terrorists, especially in South America, they were creating the kind of government that would destroy the middle class.

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