The Desperation Economy

We’re witnessing capitalism as it was never meant to be.

If you need proof that the deconstruction of the American economy began with The Great Communicator, check out his first act as president—trashing the Air Controller’s Union. Ronald Reagan’s success in that effort was the opening gun on a relentless four decade attack on union membership across corporate America and it’s been a race to the bottom for the middle class ever since.

The investor class that once had it all, wanted it back

And they got it. No matter that they wrecked it when we last trusted them with the family car, 1929 was a half-century gone in 1979 and memories are short.

Apparently the boom times of the post-war fifties, sixties and seventies just weren’t good enough for Ronnie’s crowd. They were rich as hell, but the middle class was enjoying job security as well as wages that afforded sending the kids to college along with a boat in the driveway. In those heady times a single wage-earner was enough to support the American Dream and kids were meant to do better than their parents. It pissed them off. They wanted it all.

And so we let them have it

Well, we didn’t exactly let them have it, but we did the next best thing, which was to let the fox gently remove all the controls on that powerful chicken coop called capitalism. One of the really interesting things about Americans is that when times are good, they don’t pay much attention to politics. Pericles (495bc) said “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.” Pericles was a dude who knew whereof he spoke.

Well, we weren’t paying all that much attention

Long story short, we were coming off a three-decade economic cocaine high and too dazzled by the Reagan grin to keep our eyes on the ball. Staid old banking went Las Vegas on us, corporate mergers were the next big thing, something called globalization made American workers too expensive and by the time we began to notice, it was all over.

Fast forward from 1980 to 2020

Arise is changing the way the world works. You won’t have heard of Arise, because it’s a very low-key under the radar kind of company in its latest business iteration. But I highly recommend you follow the link I provided above to read the article. Remember those call-centers with Indian accents? Arise provides the same services with the down-and-out of America’s ravaged worker base. They hire them as ‘independent contractors’ and they may answer in a local American accent, but it doesn’t come with curry.

Arise is part of what’s called the ‘gig economy’ and allows (in fact, encourages) Americans to work below the costs of foreign competition, but without the inconvenience of an accent. Wow, what an opportunity. These days we’re importing slave-wages from Asia, along with our Nikes and Gucci bags.

What it means to be an independent contractor in this brave new world

Most importantly, because you are ‘independent,’ you are blessed with the additional responsibility for providing your own social security and income tax payments, along with healthcare, retirement (such as 401-k programs), vacation time (unpaid, of course) and such nit-picky little details as job training, office equipment and online services.

Sound good so far? Let me introduce you to Tami Pendergraft, an Arise independent contractor:

(from the propublica article) After paying about $1,500 for home office equipment: a computer, two headsets and a phone line dedicated to Arise; after paying Arise to run a check on her background; after passing Arise’s voice-assessment test and signing Arise’s nondisclosure form; after paying for and passing Arise’s introductory training, to which she devoted three days, unpaid; after paying for and passing a certification course to provide customer service for Arise client AT&T, to which she devoted 44 unpaid days; after then being informed she had to get more training yet — an additional 10 days, for which she was told she would be paid, but wasn’t; and then, after finally getting a chance to sign up for hours and do work for which she would be paid (except for her time spent waiting for technical support, or researching customer issues, or huddling with supervisors), Tami Pendergraft spent three weeks fielding telephone calls from AT&T customers, after which she received a single paycheck.

For $96.12.

Is America now a 1st world nation with a 3rd world citizenry?

It would seem so. We dehumanized Tami Pendergraft because we can. She is no longer one of those our presidents address as “my fellow Americans.” Our poorest now support our most wealthy, instead of the other way around, as it was during the majority of my lifetime. But probably not during the majority of your lifetime—and that’s a very big problem.

Because it’s me and mine, we old geezers, the Greatest Generation and the Boomers who followed, your fathers and grandfathers, who sold you down the river. I apologize for my personal part in not paying proper attention on your behalf. I wish I had done better. You don’t deserve what’s been left in the garbage cans of a once great nation.

Don’t blame Mr. Trump, because he is the result, rather than the cause, of my generation’s neglect and I can’t tell you how much I wish it were otherwise.

But our fifty year shitstorm is a very brief moment in the history of a nation

We have read the tea-leaves, with a pandemic thrown in for emphasis. Yet redirected–and the opportunity is upon us–our wealth, technology, perseverance and old fashioned determination can bring the innocent out of our prisons, the homeless off our streets, the disadvantaged into prosperity and the hopeless into recognition as neighbors rather than statistics to be forgotten.

There’s a saying about statistics: “If you torture them sufficiently, they will confess to anything.” In the midst of a pandemic, along with the fracture of our comfortable lives, economic inequality, rampant racism and global climate change—that’s a quotation worth considering.

If this were a letter instead of an essay, I would sign it with love…

Image by Alexandre C. Fukugava from Pixabay

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