Thursday, March 24, 2011

The economy is being restructured - and not in a good way

Understand this, please, because it is crucial. What is happening in Wisconsin is part of an inexorable restructuring of global capital over the past 3 decades or so. A broad middle class was built here after World War II on the foundations of a vast industrial expansion. That expansion ended long ago. Once this nation played a crucial role in manufacturing, then manufacturing began moving off-shore, in part to begin depressing escalating costs of labor - and you see how that has worked very well for corporations. Wages have plummeted as US workers found themselves competing with cheap labor around the world.

Then our crucial role was to consume, and boy did we consume! But when they needed us to consume more than our monthly income could pay for in order to keep driving up profits, they created a vast credit card culture so that we could buy things by going into debt. When we were maxing out our credit cards, they began a booming industry in mortgage refinancing and home equity loans, and we continued buying and going into debt, this time with our homes on the line.

They did some other things, too. They convinced us that 401(k)s were a better retirement benefit than guaranteed pensions. This gave them vast sources of cash now available for private investors to make more profits. Now millions of us became hooked into Wall Street and other financial institutions for our future, and they used our personal  investments, along with our bundled mortgage  loans, with reckless abandon until the great collapse of 2008.

Now they also want our Social Security money. They can't wait to get their hands on this enormous pool of public money for the enrichment of their investment firms and hedge funds.

In this new global economy, they need fewer workers, while they need or are greedy for our resources. They want to privatize everything, make more and more of our common good and the good of the commons available for commodification and profit-making.

Now put the Walker/Fitzgerald brothers/Koch Industries plan for the state of Wisconsin in this context, and you begin to understand what's going on here. I have followed these issues for decades, learned them in my work in Washington DC. We have watched the unfolding of this new global economy in stark terms in many poor countries, knowing it would eventually come home to us, and now it has.

I want to offer this link to one way in which this is now playing out here - the creation of a class of permanently unemployed, and therefore my friends, the immediate impoverishment of millions of us. This is happening at the same time as those making these policies in the House of Reps, in our state Capitol, in Michigan, Ohio, New Jersey, and on and on are attempting to shrink government services, gut the public sector, and hand more of our precious shared public wealth to the corporate sector.

If we are going to counter this trend, we are going to have to be brave enough to admit that an old economic way of life is over, that a new one must be created, and that the need for broad-based solidarity among us is critical if we are to counter this destructive economic trend.

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