‘Til inequality and austerity do us part

Posted: 4 February 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

We learn (or are reminded of) three things in Andrew Hacker’s review essay, “We’re More Unequal Than You Think.”

First, U.S. capitalism is like “a giant vacuum cleaner looming over America’s economy, drawing dollars from its bottom to its upper tiers.”

Second, U.S. capitalists made a deal with the new upper middle-class.

while real earnings for the overall workforce have risen only 7 percent since 1985, professions like physicians and professors have done several times better. Incomes of lawyers and executives, for their part, have soared much further than anyone would have forecast a few decades ago. . .

. . .money to push up pay was becoming available as profits generally increased, and lower-level jobs were increasingly performed by workers abroad. So a tacit compact came into play. Health plans gave doctors most of what they billed, with few questions asked. Colleges, knowing that parents would pay, found they could increase tuition and fees, much of which went to boost the pay of those fortunate to be full-time faculty. Corporate clients didn’t object to higher legal fees, at least for top partners, since their overall labor costs were less.

And third, capitalism kills. According to the calculations made by James Gilligan,

“epidemics of lethal violence” are closely correlated with the party affiliation of the president. In the 107 years following 1900, Republicans held the White House for fifty-nine of them, leaving forty-eight for Democrats. He found that for all but fourteen of the 107 years, his combined homicide-suicide rate fell when Democrats were president and rose under Republican administrations. (Eisenhower and Carter accounted for twelve of the fourteen exceptional years.)

Gilligan’s most specific surmise is that these linkages result largely from unemployment, which tends to rise under Republican presidents. An inability to find a job, he says, is the foremost driver of feelings of shame and worthlessness. (If this pattern persists, unemployment and violence-related deaths will rise even further if we have a President Romney.) It’s obvious that the 52,959 suicides and homicides recorded in 2007 were a minute fraction of the seven million out of work that year. Gilligan, a professor of psychiatry at NYU, conjectures that “they are the tip of the iceberg…underneath which are many times more people who suffer grievously from these stresses but do not respond to them by killing others or themselves.”

And Hacker’s conclusion?

What isn’t said is that its business supporters seek the cheapest possible workforce—domestic, immigrant, or foreign—because bonuses and profits rise when payroll costs are low. If this strategy succeeds, the Americans who are most desperate for jobs will face a future as casual labor. (The college “adjuncts” who are poorly paid to do much of the teaching formerly done by upper-middle-class professors are one white-collar harbinger.) Like other overleveraged nations, the US may well be facing Thomas Edsall’s “age of austerity.”

I guess we’ll all be Americans until inequality and austerity do us part.

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