And The Sinking of the Middle Class
Last week, I began this long essay by using a 2nd grade level math problem as a metaphor to describe the manner in which our democracy has been taken over by the people who own society, or as Adam Smith described them in his 1776 book, The Wealth of Nations, the masters of mankind. While I got no push back on the use of this literary technique, I must be honest, it has not set well with me all week.
Why? you ask.
Well, primarily, it was because the story gave the illusion that the banker’s son, Tommy, was some sort of kind, albeit self-centered, altruistic soul who actually cared about Johnny and his mission to best Martha in the apple counting contest. The truth is Tommy couldn’t give less of a fuck about Johnny.
His purpose wasn’t actually to help his “friend”, it was to stick it to Martha, whom he’d long hated, and screw his teacher who’d offended his place in the world by giving him a poor grade, which he’d been taught by the sheer facts of his upbringing no one of his status deserved.
That is the real story of democracy. Not paying to play, as in giving Johnny apples and getting a good return, but playing to placate.
It is true that people with loads of money don’t mind giving it to others if they can get a good return on it— in this case, legislation reducing the tax on apples; defeating Martha and screwing the teacher—but in most scenarios, it’s not just to make a return or make life harder for someone else, though both are often the result. The fact is, other people don’t fit into the equation at all.
Here’s the revised version: Tommy has most of the apples, which gives him unparalleled power. The End.
There, now that I’ve corrected my gaffe, we can move on to the last five Principles of the Concentration of Wealth and Power:
Run the regulators
The math for this one is super easy. Business + Lobbyists = Legislation. Which is what happens when you give the power to write the rules to those most likely to benefit. If and when the shit hits the fan, as it’s done in the financial sector a number of times—and certainly will again unless something changes—who’s stuck with the bill? You, me, and the other poor, unfortunate taxpayers.
Need a visual? Here’s the first that popped to my mind.
I’m not a huge fan of Disney—except for Mulan and Moana. And, of course, Koda, Miguel, Manny, and can’t forget the incredible journey or the sled dogs from Eight Below; okay maybe I am a fan—but the story of the Little Mermaid seems to serve up an excellent plate of What’s the Worst that Can Happen. (For a great rant on why the story misses the mark, check out this three part podcast series from Malcolm Gladwell, it’s worth the listen, or if you’ve not got three hours to give up, here’s this absolutely amazing short version presented by some real experts.)
The 14th Amendment made provisions so that no person’s rights could be infringed without the due process of law. Overtime, this came to include not just people, but corporations, and the money corporations spend became considered a form of speech. This unleashed business to spend money on whatever they wanted without constraint, and money wins elections, which gives access to the writers of the rules.
Keep the rabble in line
Want another easy math problem solved by the elites, this time using pictures?
According to the International Labor Organization, in 2021 only 10.3% of all U.S. private and public workers belong to a labor union, with significantly more in the public sector (33.9%) versus the private sector (6.1%). This is part of a decline that has continued since just after World War II when a massive corporate propaganda machine driven by a highly class-conscious business class turned labor union into a foul word, resulting in less money, less safe working conditions and less opportunity for the working class to fight back against corporate tyranny.
Click here for some other interesting statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Ok, let’s take just a minute to address the elephant in the room. People really don’t like to be told what to do. That fact is all too obvious. We kind of enjoy the idea of holding power and being able to stick it to the man, if and when we are so inclined. So the masters of mankind had to find another way to control us and keep us spectators to democracy, not participants.
Enter engineered consent. Which turned out to be easier than expected, because in addition to not liking to be told what to do, it turns out that we also don’t like not having what others have. So in order to control our beliefs and attitudes of what constituted a good life—i.e. the American Dream—all these masters had to do was create the story of what exactly that entailed.
The advertising industry exploded with that as its purpose. Using superb sophistication and delivery methods, it fabricated consumers and trapped people into buying stuff they didn’t want, didn’t need and couldn’t afford, in effect, turning us all into uninformed consumers making irrational decisions.
As it were, the people in charge of elections were paying attention. Believing that the general public was incapable of making sound decisions, the best thing they could do was create an uniformed electorate, which would then make irrational choices—often against their own interests. Which is what we have today: The illusion of promise and the public sidelined.
Marginalize the population
As Chomsky makes abundantly clear, policies today have little to do with public attitude, but are closely linked to corporate interest, which was probably not much of a surprise to most of you. It wasn’t to me and has served as the fuel to my frustration for years. But then, that’s precisely the reaction desired and orchestrated by those in power. Confusion. Anger. Even hatred.
With nowhere or no one thing to focus and thrust our frustration upon, people turn against one another. We start to look out only for ourselves, not anyone else. Our behavior begins to reflect the values of preposterous wealth: Greed. Personal Gain. The dispensability of all others.
All is not lost
Although these masters of mankind relish the idea of people ditching the idea of a society based on solidarity, on our shared human fate and mutual support, and substituting it for one forged through shameless domination and the decree of a wealthy few, there has been progress and continues to be opportunity, especially in America, which is still one of the freest places in all of the world.
Throughout its history, hard-working activist citizens have seen through the chicanery of lies and deception and fought for change, and have succeeded doing more for people than government is likely capable and certainly more than corporations desire. Doing more will require even greater effort as accountability has become extinct and the powerful continue to do as they please. The challenge to these masters of mankind, if there is to be one, will come not because someone finally poured truth into our brains, as Chomsky once suggested, but because we went in search of it ourselves.