Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates and men decay
Oliver Goldsmith – The Deserted Village
Throughout the Great Recession and the not-so-great recovery, the most commonly discussed measure of misery has been unemployment. But many middle-class and working-class people who are fortunate enough to have work are struggling as well. New York Times
In most situations there is one thing the whole construct depends on or revolves around. I call that thing the “hinge”.
In analysis, finding the hinge is the shortcut to the center of a mass of inchoate information causing its elements to render some coherence.
In action, identifying the hinge is often finding the “fulcrum” with which to move the world and finding it can bring huge rewards with little input of effort.
The world’s latest economic crisis, for example, was brought upon us by very clever people who had discovered that the “hinge” of our financial system was that there was really no meaningful relation between the actual value of assets and what you could charge for them if you transformed them into a gaseous state.
I have been searching for the “hinge” of the absurd impotence of American progressives. Finding it hasn’t been that difficult.
Historically, the left has concerned itself with the suffering and the exploitation of workers. “Workers” being roughly defined as those with nothing to sell but their labor.
The American left has strayed far from that traditional role and has put much more emphasis on issues that only gain importance after the most basic needs of sustenance have been fulfilled. What passes for a left in the USA is obsessed with racial, gender, ecological and identity politics, seemingly oblivious to the fact that a great number of Americans, of all races and all possible sexual preferences, are mercilessly overworked and underpaid. They are being exploited and treated no better than excrement and left to the mercy of right wing demagogues.
The American left appears unable to make any meaningful contact with those who suffer the most from our economic system. It appears unable to unite them, organize them or even create a consciousness among them that transcends questions of class, race or gender.
USDA data released this week shows that the number of Americans receiving food aid from the Supplemental Nutrional Assistance Program (SNAP) hit another all-time high in August. 45.8 million people — almost 15% of the country — were enrolled in the program, which replaced Food Stamps in 2008. This is only a slight increase from July, when 45.3 million Americans were receiving SNAP help — but a massive 31% jump since June 2009, when the National Bureau of Economic Research declared the most recent recession over. Huffington Post
I think that I may have found said hinge contemplating a simple technical phrase that keeps bouncing off my neural walls: “working poor”. The contradiction between working and simultaneously being poor in the world’s richest country.
Here is how Wikipedia defines the term “working poor”:
Working poor is a term used to describe individuals and families who maintain regular employment but remain in relative poverty due to low levels of pay and dependent expenses.
When someone works for less pay than she can live on … she has made a great sacrifice for you … The “working poor” … are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone.
The reality is that millions of working Americans, both black and white, men and women, gay and straight, are being treated like shit every day of their lives and being treated like shit plays a greater part in their suffering than their race, gender or sexual preferences.
“Treated like shit”: surely an exaggeration?
Check this from the Guardian:
It was July 2007 and Potter, a senior executive at giant US healthcare firm Cigna, was visiting relatives in the poverty-ridden mountain districts of northeast Tennessee. He saw an advert in a local paper for a touring free medical clinic at a fairground just across the state border in Wise County, Virginia.
Potter, who had worked at Cigna for 15 years, decided to check it out. What he saw appalled him. Hundreds of desperate people, most without any medical insurance, descended on the clinic from out of the hills. People queued in long lines to have the most basic medical procedures carried out free of charge. Some had driven more than 200 miles from Georgia. Many were treated in the open air. Potter took pictures of patients lying on trolleys on rain-soaked pavements.
For Potter it was a dreadful realization that healthcare in America had failed millions of poor, sick people and that he, and the industry he worked for, did not care about the human cost of their relentless search for profits. “It was over-powering. It was just more than I could possibly have imagined could be happening in America,” he told the Observer.
The Canadian National Post newspaper writes:
The U. S. Congress, corrupted by a failure to impose campaign finance reform on special interests, from unions to wealthy entities, appears to be unable to pass laws to provide even a modicum of fair, universal health-care coverage for its populace.
In short: the American left has spent several generations merely rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, while the band plays requests.