the giant sucking sound above our heads

Some interesting facts:

In the twenty-five years from 1980 to 2005, according to David Cay Johnstone, the US economy increased more than 100% (adjusted for inflation). That economy was fueled as well by a doubling of productivity (as reported by Thomas Geoghegan). Boom times, right? Yet during the same time period, the average income for the bottom 90% of American workers declined – a decline that had, in some respects, been going on for some time. The average income for that same cohort in 2005 was about $29,000 – which is almost 13% less than it was at its peak in 1973 (about $33,000, again adjusted for inflation).

So where’d all that money go? You get one guess. Average CEO salaries have ballooned like Rush Limbaugh’s waistline at an all-you-can-eat buffet, rising to $10.4 million per year in 2008 (a year in which, as we know, the captains of our nation’s economy surely exercised some stunningly efficient navigational maneuvers). That’s more than 30 times the average income.

In other words, as journalist Joel McNally puts it, “the richest 10% took every penny of the increase in the nation’s wealth and more.”

But wait, some might say – isn’t the current economic crisis caused by irresponsible lowlifes taking out ridiculous mortgages they knew they could never afford? Uh, no: first, many of the more dubiously structured mortgages out there were sold to people who would have qualified for more conventional, fiscally reasonable mortgages – but in any event, no one was forcing those poor widdle bankers to give those folks loans. And of course (as Geoghegan also points out), the elimination of any sort of cap on interest rates means that in many cases, it’s to lenders’ considerable advantage that its debtors not repay loans…since the lenders will make far more on high-interest loans than on a paid-off loan.

And it’s rich – rich, I tell you – to hear these wealthy folks going on about responsibility to repay debts incurred, etc., when the past fifty years have been one long march to allow corporations to weasel out of any and all responsibilities: contracts, pensions, nearly any formerly legally binding document is worth as much as some of those dubious mortgages. Geoghegan notes that “with a competent lawyer any employer can cancel any promise to any worker.”

What’s perhaps saddest about all this is the curious Stockholm Market Syndrome whereby victims instinctively side with the very folks siphoning millions from the wallets of other victims. Let someone write a sympathetic article about a family, caught between a bad mortgage and an unexpected layoff, and the self-righteousness is deafening: “Well, they never should have taken out that mortgage if they couldn’t afford it!” Uh-huh…and how long could you pay your mortgage if you were to become unexpectedly unemployed? A year? Six months? Two? I’m guessing for a lot of people, the answer is much closer to the low side than the high.

But then nearly every vector of our culture, from business to sports to advertising, inculcates a ruthless, selfish cynicism toward others, along with an infantilizing coddling encouraging people to believe they’re entitled to grab whatever they think they need – so I suppose I shouldn’t expect any general level of sympathy for others’ misfortunes.

All this is even more bizarre…in that, regarding the extremely wealthy, I cannot imagine what there is to do with all that money. I mean, there are only so many football teams you can buy: really the only thing to do with 10 million dollars every year (and that, of course, isn’t counting other income streams, interest, etc.) is try to breed it into even more dollars. Yet poll after poll shows that beyond a certain level of wealth, the rich aren’t any happier than anyone else. It’s a compulsion, then – and an enormously socially destructive one.

Along with its endemic inability to recognize the reality of the lives of most people, and a concomitant cruel obliviousness toward those people, you’d think all these symptoms would be regarded as a species of mental illness. Instead, it’s what we’re all supposed to strive toward.

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2 Comments

Filed under politricks, thinky, webbities

2 responses to “the giant sucking sound above our heads

  1. Those are disturbing statistics. Did you coin the phrase “Stockholm Market Syndrome”?

  2. I think I did – at least, I don’t recall reading it somewhere else…

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