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[personal profile] prickvixen
I was told I ought to put my commentary from this post into my journal, so for the sake of once again preaching to the converted, here it is.

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This is little different from the attitudes at the time of the Great Depression; it was seen as a personal failing if one couldn't find work, even in the face of economic collapse. It's not really commented upon much, that there was a major shift in attitude at the time, in that the unemployment level came to be regarded as a function of economic health, rather than a moral failing or Darwinistic inferiority.

But I think the emphasis on polishing resumes and such represents a twofold philosophical reaction to the current economic state. One, that there really isn't anything you can do to win jobs which aren't there, short of indenturing yourself or offering some extralegal arrangement which makes your labor temptingly cheap, so all anyone can offer is platitutes and busywork so people feel like they're accomplishing something. Two, which is a subtext of point one, is that blame must be deflected from the wealthy and powerful who actually control the economy; if this isn't via direct acquittal, by claiming the economy is an unknowable force of nature, or blaming a few 'bad apples,' etc., then you have to get people to just not think about the rich. The best people to act as apologists for the rich are those who are already pretty well off, but want to do even better... this was understood years ago, in Victorian times, that the growing middle class was even more reactionary than the actual wealthy. Their economic status is in transition, and they have an agenda to improve and preserve it from any socialist notion of equalization. So, I mean, journalists are at that stratum; they aren't rich people but they're doing all right. You don't even have to order them to engage in class warfare... it is in their personal interests and fits their existing biases to do so, and like any other bias with any other person, they are generally not aware that they're engaging in it.

Look at the difference between media portrayal of job loss in the 80s and subsequently. In the 80s, there was a major shift of industrial manufacturing jobs from the United States to other countries where the labor was cheaper and less secure. Not only was the media not talking about it, with the exception of a few clearly insane reporters, but overt acknowledgment of the phenomenon was derided as paranoia or delusion. Then, once the process was effectively irreversible, it was acknowledged as an unfortunate fact of the global economy. Then it was okay to talk about it. Fast-forward to the late 90s-early 2000s. Now the jobs being transferred are white-collar jobs. The response in the media is pretty immediate; it's all over the news, you get cute terms like 'offshoring,' you get India held up as the culprit, like they conspired to be poor and educated, and it's suddenly a huge deal that American jobs are going to foreigners, because we're talking about jobs in similar economic strata to those of workers in the media, and of the audience they're trying to cultivate on behalf of the sponsors. People reporters know, or with whom they share similar interests, are now losing their jobs; therefore the issue is suddenly important and merits coverage.

What you didn't hear, and still don't hear even in connection to the whole 'brown peril' of illegal Mexican laborers, is anything about the culpability of employers, who in some cases actually finance the transit of illegal workers, but who certainly consciously create a demand for their labor. And then there's all this talk about how you can't get Americans to do the jobs which they bring in Mexicans to do; what's never stated is that nothing like a fair wage or safe working conditions or workers' rights are offered in these jobs, but Mexicans will do them because they are simply that desperate. The same factors explain why Indian tech workers don't agitate for the kind of pay that someone in San Jose could expect for the same labor, because they feel fortunate to have anything, even if they're informed enough to know they're actually being screwed. But you never hear anything in the news remotely like an attitude that business habitually preys on desperate people; all you hear about is 'opportunity.' And what you would be told, if this behavior were actually questioned, is that it's 'business' and that it's logical for business to maximize profit by finding the most desperate people to exploit... maybe not in those words. And needless to say, we never question capitalism itself, if exploiting the weak and fomenting divisions between people are expected results of its fundamental function. So the economy can be crippled by the unchecked pursuit of wealth, to the point where we are obliged to pay multi-billion dollar bribes to keep it running, or so we're told, and even in the face of this, the validity and viability of the system isn't questioned. (Never mind that all the market interference and legislative interference which business regularly engages in isn't 'capitalism' in the classical sense; it's still considered inviolate and beyond reproach.)

Getting back to the Great Depression, it should be remembered why the New Deal was created and why FDR was able to get it moving in a country under the stranglehold of the wealthy: it was anticipated that there would be insurrection and possible revolution if the suffering of the people was not alleviated in some way. The Russian Revolution had taken place not that long before, and the Communist and Socialist parties were real political forces in this country, and it wasn't irrational to suppose that a hungry, desperate populace would take out their frustration on the rich. You can bet that before the New Deal was considered, it had already been determined that the nation couldn't be effectively (or maybe just cost-effectively) put under martial law, should this revolution come; it was an accommodation by the wealthy, and they hated it but they held their noses and approved it. This was in conjunction with massive amounts of pro-business, anti-labor propaganda, so effectively that even today we as a nation consider capitalism synonymous with freedom, and socialism is some sort of Orwellian plot to rob everybody.

At the same time, what we're supposed to believe retrospectively is that this country's long-standing rabid anti-communism came from a fear that the Soviets were going to take us over, when it was understood quite explicitly from the start that it was a response by the wealthy to the threat of insurrection by the domestic poor, and that the Soviet Union was known to be a sideshow at best. In fact, the entire US response to the Soviet Union during its history is now said to have resulted from a grossly overestimated and mistaken idea of the latter's military and economic strength, when in reality it was the ideological threat which was the biggest fear of US elites. It's not difficult to look at our actions and see that the US understood very well that the Soviet Union operated from a position of weakness on all fronts except the ideological one. We didn't seriously expect invasion, or for the USSR to be any match for us in a conventional military conflict; we invaded what we would call their 'client states' with impunity, while the Soviets matched this with virtually nothing of the sort. What the people who ran the US were afraid of was their own populace, which is also true of totalitarian states, and probably any country with an elite political and economic class. But you don't tell your own people you're afraid of them; that's giving the game away. Better to tell them you're trying to protect them from 'outsiders' or 'traitors,' and get them all afraid so they feel like they need you in charge, and that it's in their interests to do what you tell them to. Kind of how we now have to save America from all these Mexicans invading us and stealing our jobs, even though it's business which is deliberately manipulating the labor market to produce this result.
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June 2010

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