Labor Day Links

Bush Administration, economy, holiday, workers

The theme of the past week has been “the road to serfdom.” Most of us would rather not be serfs, I assume, but it seems there are exceptions.

The Associated Press reports today that American workers are the most productive in the world —

American workers stay longer in the office, at the factory or on the farm than their counterparts in Europe and most other rich nations, and they produce more per person over the year.

They also get more done per hour than everyone but the Norwegians, according to a U.N. report released Monday, which said the United States “leads the world in labor productivity.” …

… The U.S. employee put in an average 1,804 hours of work in 2006, the report said. That compared with 1,407.1 hours for the Norwegian worker and 1,564.4 for the French.

Here in America, “a manufacturing employee produced an unprecedented $104,606 of value in 2005,” it says. What the AP doesn’t tell us is since 2005 he was laid off without health care or a pension, his job went overseas, and CEOs grew wealthier.

Even so, you can count on finding a happy rightie blogger: “So, still think everything is gloomy in the US? Really?”

Gary Younge seems a tad gloomy:

There are moments when things really are the way they seem and facts really do speak for themselves. Bad as the facts may appear, attempting to rationalise them only makes matters worse. Trying to convince people otherwise only insults their intelligence.

So it would have seemed last Tuesday when the US census bureau revealed its latest findings on income, poverty and health. The report showed that since George Bush came to power the poverty rate had risen by 9%, the number of people without health insurance had risen by 12%, and real median household income had remained stagnant. On the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina we learned the racial disparity in income and the gap between rich and poor show no sign of abating.

Bush declared himself “pleased” with the results, even if the uninsured presented “a challenge”. He pointed out that over the past year poverty had declined (albeit by a fraction, and from the previous high he had presided over) and median household income had increased (albeit by a fraction and primarily because more people were working longer hours). Maybe he thought Americans would not realise that five years into a “recovery” their wages were stagnant, their homes were being repossessed at a rate not seen since the Depression, and their pension funds were on a roller coaster.

Having beckoned ordinary Americans with the lure of cheap credit and stock market gains, the invisible hand of the market has now grabbed them by the scruff of the neck and is shaking them mercilessly.

Steven Thomma reports for McClatchy Newspapers that Americans generally are a tad gloomy:

A year before they choose a new government for the post-Bush era, Americans are desperate to change the country’s course.

According to opinion polls and interviews with political experts and voters, the U.S. population is more liberal than at any time in a generation, hungering to end the Iraq war, turn inward and use the federal government to solve problems at home. …

… The surveys point to one thing almost all Americans tend to agree on: They’re deeply unhappy with the way things are going in the United States and eager to move on. There’s virtually no appetite to extend the Bush era, as there was at the end of Ronald Reagan’s presidency in 1988 or Bill Clinton’s in 2000.

  • Just 1 in 5 Americans think the country is going in the right direction, the worst outlook since the Reagan-Bush era ended in 1992.
  • Less than one-third of Americans like the way the current President Bush is handling his job, among the lowest ratings in half a century. The people had similarly dismal opinions just before they ended the Jimmy Carter era in 1980, the Kennedy-Johnson years in 1968 and the Roosevelt-Truman era in 1952.
  • The ranks of people who want the government to help the poor have risen sharply since the early 1990s — dramatically among independents, but even among Republicans.
  • Daniel Gross writes at Newsweek about how the mortgage bubble burst is dragging the rest of the economy down with it. (BTW, Paul Krugman predicted this more than two years ago.) See also Hale Stewart, who thinks the next few months will be very dicey for the markets.

    Let’s go back to Gary Younge:

    In 1991 Clinton’s chief strategist pinned a note on the wall of his campaign headquarters to remind the team of its core message: “the economy, stupid”.

    A similar focus may once again be necessary, although translating that maxim into votes is not straightforward. Paradoxically, the states with the highest levels of poverty and lowest incomes are staunchly Republican. Poor people tend not to vote, and candidates tend neither to appeal nor refer to them. However, economically they are a glaring and shameful fact of American life; socially and culturally they dominate the centre of almost every moral panic – but politically they do not exist.

    The poor aren’t the only invisible Americans:

    Most Americans identify themselves as “middle class” – but in the middle of what is not clear. Anything that would identify working people as a group with a collective set of interests that are different from and at times antagonistic to the interests of corporations has pretty much been erased from public discourse. People will refer to “blue collar workers”, “working families”, “the poor”, the “working poor”. But the working class simply does not exist.

    Anything that would identify working people as a group with a collective set of interests that are different from and at times antagonistic to the interests of corporations has pretty much been erased from public discourse. And we know who controls public discourse.

    None the less, class does play a role. It is most often used by the right to cast liberals as cultural “elites”. The price of Edwards’s haircut, John Kerry’s windsurfing, Al Gore’s earth tones – all are exploited as illustrations of the effete mannerisms of those who claim to speak for the common man and woman. Class is not elevated to politics but reduced to performance: that is how the fact that Bush has made so little of his elite upbringing has become an asset.

    The conservative columnist Cal Thomas said of Edwards: “His populist jargon is nothing but class warfare.” If only. Long ago the wealthy declared war on the poor in this country. The poor have yet to fight back.

    Yet there is a ray of hope.

    None the less, in recent years the conditions associated with poverty have spread far beyond the poor. Almost two-thirds of those who lost their health insurance last year earn $75,000 or more. Homeowners are also not so easy to write off, not least because those hardest hit happen to be in politically sensitive areas. Of the 10 states that have suffered the most from foreclosures, six – Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, Florida, Ohio and Michigan – are swing states.

    Will the middle class surrender to serfdom, or will it fight back? The 2008 elections may provide a clue.

    Elsewhere — For some interesting historical perspective on Labor Day, see “The labor day that wasn’t” in the Boston Globe and a retrospective at the Los Angeles Times.

    And let us not forget what Theodore Roosevelt said in 1910:

    We cannot afford weakly to blind ourselves to the actual conflict which faces us to-day. The issue is joined, and we must fight or fail.

    In every wise struggle for human betterment one of the main objects, and often the only object, has been to achieve in large measure equality of opportunity. In the struggle for this great end, nations rise from barbarism to civilization, and through it people press forward from one stage of enlightenment to the next. One of the chief factors in progress is the destruction of special privilege. The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows. …

    … At many stages in the advance of humanity, this conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress. In our day it appears as the struggle of freemen to gain and hold the right of self-government as against the special interests, who twist the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the popular will. At every stage, and under all circumstances, the essence of the struggle is to equalize opportunity, destroy privilege, and give to the life and citizenship of every individual the highest possible value both to himself and to the commonwealth.

    Of course, if some Democrat were to say the same thing today, every rightie pundit and blogger in the Hemisphere would scream about class warfare.

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    1. johnmeister  •  Sep 3, 2007 @10:56 am

      These numbers are calculated by taking the Total GDP and dividing it by the number of workers. That means all the illegals who contribute to the economy are not counted. So the actual productivity is lower. How much lower I don’t know.

    2. CMc  •  Sep 3, 2007 @12:42 pm

      Maha, your long quote from Theodore Roosevelt inspired me to combine a couple of responses I posted over at “Needlenose” and post them below.

      Consider the contrast between these two sentiments.

      First, from Ronald Reagan, the essence of the modern right-wing in American politics: “Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem.”

      Second, from the Founding Fathers: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

      Quite simply, the modern Republican Party is systematically undermining and destroying the best system of government ever invented by human beings. While waving a flag (and carrying a Bible), they are doing what the Nazis could not do, the Communists could not do, and terrorists in their wildest dreams could not do. A cross between a gang of thieves and a colony of termites, the Republicans in the last 25 years have done much to turn this great nation into a hollow, helpless shell of its former self.

      Consider these Republicans: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower. They used government to save the United States, end slavery and guarantee equal rights, open up the West, bust trusts (monopolies), regulate foods and drugs, establish national parks, go into space (NASA), build interstate highways, and integrate previously all-white public schools.

      Now consider these: Rutherford B. Hayes, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush. They abandoned black Americans, cut taxes for the wealthy, entrusted regulatory agencies to the interests they were supposed to regulate, provided aid to businesses rather than unemployed workers, turned government agencies and programs over to cronies and/or profiteers, attempted to privatize Social Security, and so on. Republicans in this stream used to believe in balanced budgets, but Reagan and Bush gave that up in favor of ever more tax breaks for capital. They used to believe in small, non-intrusive government, but Bush blew that away with the Patriot Act and Terri Schiavo.

      Today’s Republicans have become the opposite of Lincoln, have ignored what TR actually did (especially in domestic matters), and have forgotten Ike. Bush and Cheney are like a distillation of everything bad in Republican history, but with a new and dangerous authoritarian twist (“unitary executive”).

      And I left out the administrations of Warren G. Harding and Richard Nixon, those Republicans associated with sexual, financial, partisan, and espionage abuses. Needless to say, Bush and Cheney’s Republican Party …

      By the way, Maha, I had previously used this quote from Theodore Roosevelt, which I will close with here: “The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants… Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.”

    3. felicity  •  Sep 3, 2007 @1:26 pm

      Who could say it better than TR. said it. Thanks for that quote.

      Indeed our right, if you believe the Constitution, ‘to pursue happiness’, according to today’s Republicans, is our right as long as it doesn’t interfere with or deter the plutocrat from his pursuit.

      And of course the big lie is the free-market, laissez-faire touting capitalist who deplores ‘government’ interference in his business except when his business needs bailing out, outrageous tax breaks, government subsidies, union squashing laws, whatever. What they’re really advocating is socialism for themselves and capitalism for the poor.

      I read that ‘happy rightie blogger’ piece, got to the last statement which you quoted and can only say it was a marvelous example of a non-sequiter.

    4. Bonnie  •  Sep 3, 2007 @1:41 pm

      One other thing that has made the past 10 years so bad is the loss of a “free” press. The corporate-owned, war profiteering media (COWPM) is no longer a defender of democracy and does not work as the founding fathers intended. We are lucky to have the internet to counteract the COWPM. [I wish I could come up with an additional word in that phrase so the acronym would be COWPMS.]

    5. No More Mr. Nice Guy!  •  Sep 3, 2007 @2:28 pm

      How about Corporate-Owned War Profiteering Media Syndicate?

    6. Wordsmith  •  Sep 3, 2007 @3:09 pm

      I need help here and input. I’d like to do an analysis of the middle class now and the lower class then (say 1900-1920s, thereabouts when the unions started up, and Mother Jones was roaming free!). My thought is that now the middle class is about where the lower or working class folks were; we’re just ‘better’ dressed, better fed, etc., that better delusions, so as to keep producing.

      How to get started?

    7. moonbat  •  Sep 3, 2007 @4:51 pm

      “Class warfare” was one of a handfull of phrases the right singled out, to not only destroy its traditional meaning, but to invert it and shove it in our faces, and use against us. Dave Niewert, in his classic Rush, Newspeak and Fascism talks about this very thing.

      I well recall being stunned, and tongue-tied, the first time I heard a wingnut use “class warfare” in this novel, Newspeak way. And this was the precise intent – to stymie me by destroying and inverting the common language.

      Anything that would identify working people as a group with a collective set of interests that are different from and at times antagonistic to the interests of corporations has pretty much been erased from public discourse. People will refer to “blue collar workers”, “working families”, “the poor”, the “working poor”. But the working class simply does not exist.

      Exactly. If you lack the words to express a concept, it exists only in your own mind, or perhaps in the minds of others, each isolated and disempowered from one another. I suspect this is part of the problem for John Edwards, whose campaign stresses working class poverty and who must feel at times like he’s shouting into the wind.

      It is crucial to begin reclaiming our language from the systematically destruction it has suffered by the right. Having succinct definitions of altered phrases like “class warfare” or “liberal”, at the ready, to immediately rebut a wingnut’s usage of the same is critical. Even before this, we must create awareness of how and why the right has been deliberately destroying langugage – Niewert’s article is a good place to start.

      Releated to this is the right’s attempt to edit history by modifying wikipedia entries, but that’s on another level altogether. The Ministry of Truth, hard at work.

    8. Bonnie  •  Sep 3, 2007 @5:06 pm

      No More Mr. Nice Guy! I like your suggestion and will start using it because syndicate used be a euphemism for the Mafia and it seems very appropriate. And, how can any one forget COWPMS 🙂