In the LA Times, Barbara Ehrenreich writes about one of my favorite topics: Namely, things that do and do not get Americans upset and angry. This is the key section:
Threaten the Greeks with job losses and benefit cuts and they tie up Athens, but take away Americans' jobs, 401(k)s, even their homes, and they pretty much roll over. Tell British students that their tuition is about to go up and they take to the streets; American students just amp up their doses of Prozac. [...]
[B]ut when the eminent social scientist Frances Fox Piven brought it up at the end of December in an essay titled "Mobilizing the Jobless," all hell broke loose. An editor of Glenn Beck's website, theblaze.com, posted a piece sporting the specious headline "Frances Fox Piven Rings in the New Year by Calling for Violent Revolution," and, just two weeks before the Tucson shootings, the death threats started flying. Many of the most provocative comments have been removed from the site's comment section, but at one time they included such charming posts as: "Bring it on biotch [sic]. we're armed to the teeth."
Readers of this blog are obviously quite familiar with this sort of behavior. But as Ehrenreich sharply notes, 'twas not always thus:
During the depression of 1892 to 1896, unemployed workers marched to Washington by the thousands in what was then the largest mass protest this country had seen. In 1932, even more jobless people -- 25,000 -- staged what was, at that time, the largest march on Washington, demanding public works jobs and a hike in the inheritance tax. From the '60s to the '80s, Americans marched again and again -- peacefully, nonviolently and by the hundreds of thousands -- for civil rights, women's rights, gay rights, economic justice and against wars. In fact, this has been a major focus of Piven's scholarly work over the years — the American tradition of protest and resistance to economic injustice -- and it's a big enough subject to keep hundreds of academics busy for life.
I would argue a coupla reasons for this: First, the abandonment of organized labor by much of the Democratic Party and some segments of the too-obsessed-with-identity-politics professional left has placed a real rift between liberals and many blue-collar folks who now feel no one represents them. As Sen. Jim Webb put it last year after the Dems' election debacling:
People look up say, what's the difference between these two parties? Neither of them is really going to take on Wall Street. If they don't have the guts to take them on, and they've got all these other programs that exclude me, well to hell with them. I'm going to vote for the other people who can at least satisfy me on other issues, like abortion.
This is sadly true. But the other aspect of this story is equally depressing: As a culture we've internalized Atlas Shrugged and have learned to view rich people as our morally superior overlords.
I'll never forget the moment I realized that our entire country was suffering from a collective mental disorder. It happened when the Wall Street Journal went out and talked to some of the people who inadvertently made hedge fund manager John Paulson very, very rich because they could no longer afford payments on their houses. Essentially, Paulson, with an assist from the Fabulous Fab and Goldman Sachs, created a portfolio of horrendously crappy mortgages and then shorted it by taking out credit default swaps on it. In other words, the more people who stopped making mortgage payments and lost their homes, the better Paulson's portfolio performed.
So anyway, when the Journal asked some of these folks how they felt about Paulson growing rich from betting on their personal misfortune, here's what one of them said:
In 2006, Mr. Booket got hit by a car while riding a motorcycle from a late-night party, was unable to find much work and couldn't pay the bank. In October 2008, he lost the house to foreclosure and plans to move out by next week. He says he bears no grudge against Mr. Paulson and Goldman.
"The man came up with a scheme to get rich, and he did it," says Mr. Booket, who had refinanced his mortgage just months before the accident. "So more power to him."
OK, let's use a sports analogy (I just love sports analogies). Imagine that LeBron James suffered a season-ending knee injury during the first game of the 2011 NBA playoffs. And imagine that someone came up to him afterward and said, "Well, LeBron, there is some upside to your misfortune. A retired doctor who is now a full-time investor has spent the last three years watching the stress you've been putting on your knee with awkward pivots and he took out billions in credit default swaps because he thought it wouldn't be long before you suffered a catastrophic injury. And now that your ACL and MCL have blown out, he's stinking rich! Doesn't that make you feel better?"
Do you think LeBron would actually give the guy credit and say, "More power to him?" HAAAAAAIIIIILLLLL NOOOOOOOOO.
We live in a bizarre and depraved culture when it comes to money, my friends.