The Coastal Post - February, 1996

Living On Un-fixed Income


"We are afflicted with a new disease of which some readers may not yet have heard, but of which they will hear a great deal in the years to come—namely "technological unemployment." This means unemployment due to our discovery of means of economizing the use of labor outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labor."

John Maynard Keynes is responsible for the theory that saved capitalism from itself back in the 1930s. His words from the past give a basic outline of the problems faced then, which have become greater now. They are political far more than technological problems, but at least Keynes tried. His solution was for government investment to "find new uses," and it has served to prop up a faulty economic system for more than a generation.

Capitalism's modern barbarians are a throwback to the time before Keynes, and a response to the Keynesian "solutions" breakdown. It's time for a change, and it will have to be far more substantial than that of the 1930s. We need more than a New Deal; we need a whole new deck. But so far, the same old cards are being reshuffled.

America in 1996 is a place where millions have been led to believe that government has a responsibility to see that their right to kill themselves with guns, booze and tobacco is protected, while government has minimal responsibility to protect their right to a job, a home, an education or a meal. It is a place where people with the intelligence of Butthead and the bankroll of Ross Perot can run for president, and major media covers political economics by reporting stories of market success and personal scandal, rather than focusing on a failing system and a public crisis.

The investor class sees its profits rising, and economic boom is daily financial news for the minority at the top. Meanwhile, more Americans are reduced to living on unfixed income, if any income at all. Corporate success means thousands of workers are tossed out of what were reasonable salaries and secure jobs, and into the insecurity of part-time, seasonal and itinerant work. This, while the government that was Keynes' savior of capitalism is under assault and being downsized as well.

Some have finally begun to take notice of the alarming contradictions inherent in the national economy. Major media have recently focused on the conflict in soaring corporate profits and sinking worker security. From the executive branch, only Labor Secretary Robert Reich has consistently spoken of the problem, but his voice has been greeted with deafening silence from the administration. Unfortunately, Reich's suggested solution to this deep-rooted structural problem of modern capitalism is to advise corporations to act with more social responsibility, perhaps rewarded by more tax deductions for being nice. Sure.

It will take more than tax breaks to bring about a fully-employed nation, at wagers that offer decent survival and not working class poverty. A serious redistribution of wealth is in order, along with a more democratic system of control over the productive process. One is not possible without the other, and neither is possible while corporate wealth controls government, media and the economy. It's imperative that Americans gain a better understanding of that economy. Millions already know it isn't working for them, and millions more are finding out every day that their future is anything but assured.

The gap between our working and investor populations grows wider, as the majority works more hours to earn less. Millions now live in constant insecurity, and reliance on an expanding plastic debt bubble which threatens to burst. This insecurity is preyed upon by politicians who scapegoat as an answer to our problems, usually finding the poor, immigrants and crime the most convenient subjects.

Countering this demagogy isn't easy, but it has often meant supporting, even romanticizing poverty and immigration while minimizing crime, rather than working to change the system that thrives on the creation of these things. A generation of progress in civil rights and human dignity is now threatened, not because some bad people run Congress, but because all people are controlled by corporate capital. The era of Americans paying taxes in support of a massive military state that empowers global capital should be nearing an end. An era in which they understand their own interests and begin to act upon them may be at its beginning.

The immediate need is to preserve what progress the nation has enjoyed, and not go back in time to the heartless form of capitalism that existed before our primitive social welfare programs. But it won't do any good to bring back what has already failed. Poverty, racism and crime are not only a menace to society; they are its guaranteed by-products as long as it conforms to the religion of market forces under exclusively private control, with government assuring that such control is maintained. Keynes tried to save the system, but the thing to do is change it, first by understanding those forces that divide us and create ever more insecurity for working Americans.

The recently celebrated Martin Luther King Day was long on celebrating the part of his dream that envisioned racial unity, but short on remembering that the dream included a restructuring of the system of capitalism in order to achieve that unity. Keynes understood part of the problem, but King proposed much of the solution. It's time for Americans to learns more about both. Stay tuned.