Regular folk, good folk, and very confused folk.

Nov 11, 2011 by

Over the past few days I’ve had the opportunity to speak with a number of people that I don’t usually have a chance to talk to. These talks were edifying.  The folks I have gone out of my way to talk to could be considered representative of the bewildering number of people and incomes who are considered to be of the middle classes.

It could be considered devious, but I went into these conversations with a specific intention. I purposely did not ask about their opinions of the OWS movement or any other social issues. You could say that I was in essence trying to “chew the fat” and talk about regular everyday things while slowly leading the conversation towards getting an idea of these people’s political notions and beliefs about the world.

What I found particularly interesting is for the most part their political/social/economic beliefs were not congruent with their general perceptions of the day to day world that we live in. If I talked to a person about lower income housing, environmental issues, medicare, education, unions, etc., there was a distinct, marked difference between the way they presented themselves within the context of politicized language such as left, right, conservative, liberal, republican, democrat, etc., and talks we may have had on other days when I purposely steered the conversation away from using these sociologically loaded words.

This is substance that is worth talking about.

There is a capacious difference between having contradictory beliefs – which some of the greatest intellectuals in this world do – and, what should be readily apparent, having altogether incongruent thoughts, and this is the raison d’être for this article.

Even if many are not speaking of, or even familiar with the general notion of the New Deal, it is unsettlingly apparent that they fundamentally believe that they are still living in that world. The world espoused by Franklin Roosevelt is but a memory of times gone by.

“Throughout the nation men and women, forgotten in the political philosophy of the Government, look to us here for guidance and for more equitable opportunity to share in the distribution of national wealth… I pledge myself to a new deal for the American people. This is more than a political campaign. It is a call to arms.” – Franklin Roosevelt

One cannot argue with some, who are of an age to remember the Depression and how times have changed and in their (rightfully held) opinion – have improved. The problem is, that improvement quite literally stopped during the Reagan administration, with his deregulation of finance,  organized campaigns of union busting, and manipulation of public opinion.

While many presidents and prime ministers have used public information polls to help guide them in formulating rhetoric that would help them gain support for legislation, wars, or re-elections, Ronald Reagan brought it to another level entirely with Richard Wirthlin and Micheal Deaver. This type of massive polling and the subsequent tactical and strategical decisions made are parturient to the formulation of the obliquitous public oratory that Reagan became known for. As Jefferey Tulis correctly asserts,

“Political rhetoric is, simultaneously, a practical result of basic doctrines of  governance, and an avenue to the meaning of alternative constitutional  understandings.”

 

Wynton C. Hall coined an apt phrase for the Reagan/Wirthlin/Deaver public oratories, “quantifiably safe rhetoric.” The essential idea is, of course, based on massive polling and the information willingly given by unsuspecting constituents in the public. Even here on oddbloke.ca one could say I used “polling” to quantify the level of support for Walt Kego’s particular vernacular – the difference being that I honestly stated what I would use the information for. This is quite contrary to many polls run by massive public relations firms today – many of which have been hired by lobbying groups that may very well be attempting to gain information from you on a known issue that has a negative public perception. This information is used to build a politically safe rhetoric to condition the masses, who pollsters and politicians know are for the most part not critical thinkers and generally rest their opinions on snippets of information from mass media. It is a well known tactic to use this type of “bumper sticker” information dispension to soften the public to a policy that has little to do with what is actually for the greater public good.

For example, and I will have to give proof of this in yet another article I’m working on called “Dem’ Peanuts gonna cost you a whole lot more now,” let’s consider unions.

Unions. If there ever was a mass campaign to win the hearts and minds of the masses it was the coordinated effort by Republican and Conservative governments to quite literally soft touch the public into holding the opinion that unions are a completely bad thing.  There is an old saying:

 “A good company doesn’t need a union and a bad company deserves one.”

This “bumper sticker” slogan holds a fair amount of truth and I would like to posit that a public who is not used to thinking inversely and recursively will miss the point. One of the fundamentally important aspects of unions is that they force a certain honesty and accountability onto companies that are not unionized at all. A non-unionized company will develop company policies that are progressive and fair out of the simple fear of being unionized if they did not. While there are corrupt unions, I think they are diminutive in number when compared to corrupt politicians, and whether some of them are corrupt is not the point at all. It certainly isn’t a substantial argument for the abolition of unions as Conservative and Republican governments would have you believe. Moreover, it is utter dishonesty to promulgate, as the Right did in the late 80s and 90s – spending an inordinate amount of time and public money – that if company ‘A’, which produces widget ‘X’, is unionized, then the price of widget ‘X’ will be disproportionately higher than one produced by a non-unionized company.

I can remember a common phrase that was essentially a meme during the 80’s and 90’s, no doubt planted by Right wingers with an agenda, probably with information garnered from a poll:

“Unionized bread is more expensive than non-unionized bread.”

Oh brother. This is completely contrary to basic principles of supply and demand and is deceitful in every way. This meme relies on the premise that the general public have bumper sticker understanding of economics, supply and demand, tariffs, etc..  So what is the reality? The reality is that if unionized company ‘A’ and non-unionized company ‘B’ are both selling 60% whole wheat bread, in order to compete in the marketplace and still have people buy their brand of bread, the owners and shareholders of company ‘A’ will have to reduce their direct profits. It is always spun to the public that the company will go out of business if it doesn’t break the union. In fairness, there have been times where unions do make onerous demands on a corporation that may in fact cause its failure, but these are truly isolated events. Think about it for a moment: does it make sense to you that a union would consistently exact or demand such onerous wage concessions from a company even if said payments would cause the company to bankrupt? This is just silly as the union would destroy itself and the jobs of its workers in the process, but the general public is lead to believe that they do – all of the time!

So what about the price of bread with no unions? Well it has continued to rise regardless of union influence; some of this can be attributed to material costs. But the fact of the matter is, again, the market sets the price. When there are no unions only the most addlepated would believe that suddenly all of the bread producers would reduce prices, out of good will, to the general public. No, the prices stay the same and more money is funneled into the shareholders’/owners’ pockets. What do you think will happen when there are only one or two companies that sell bread? Don’t be fooled!

While this program of public disinformation has been used throughout history, Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945, was a particularly great teacher to those who seek power.

 

“It would not be impossible to prove with sufficient repetition and a psychological understanding of the people concerned that a square is in fact a circle. They are mere words, and words can be molded until they clothe ideas and disguise.”
―      Joseph Goebbels

“If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth. ”
―      Joseph Goebbels

“Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play.”
―      Joseph Goebbels

What many don’t realize is most of the good ideas and few of the bad in the New Deal were effectively wiped out during the Reagan Presidency ( January 20, 1981, – January 20, 1989.) Reagan implemented an absurd number of political, social, and economic changes; the most damning of these changes was supply-side economics, known to its critics as trickle-down economics.

Many of you have heard the term trickle-down economics, and may not have realized that it is a disparaging condemnation of Reaganomics and the supply-side theory.

So what is supply-side economics?

The basic premise of the theory is that greater tax cuts for investors and corporations provide incentives to produce economic benefits that “trickle down” into the overall economy.

Supply-side economics attempts to explain macroeconomic effect and offer policy prescriptions for stable economic growth. There are 3 basic pillars of supply-side theory: tax policy, regulatory policy and monetary policy. The key idea behind supply-side economics is that production (the “supply” of goods and services) is the most substantial agent of economic growth.

The evident difference between supply-side economics and Keynesian economics is that a pure Keynesian believes that consumer demand for goods and services are the decisive economic drivers, while a supply-sider is wholly convinced that corporations and their willingness to create goods and services set the pace of economic growth.

 

The supply-side economics basic premise has created the current nightmarish economic position that we are in today. Today the economy looks much like it did before the New Deal.

 “Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of  labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the  superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” 

―    Abraham  Lincoln

Trickle-down economics has failed us miserably. As with the striking down of unions, the excess capital that corporations earn is not in fact passed on to the public through price reduction.  An example of this is Ikea. The fundamentally most important aspect of Ikea furniture is the post and turn-buckle fastening system. Those of you who have bought from Ikea over the years may have noticed that this critical piece of fastening technology that quite literally holds together the pressboard furniture you just bought, is now made out of a brittle cheap plastic, instead of the much more structurally sound metal of the past.  Ikea isn’t a company that needs to decrease expenses because of economic difficulties. In 2010 Ikea announced a 6.1% increase in profits resulting in 3.6 billion dollars of pure profit – but you get plastic connectors now instead of metal ones. The point I’m trying to make should be crystal clear.

Deregulation has created monolithic companies that have reduced competition like never before in history.  Here we find another meme that has been created by Right wing plutocrats who have controlled our lives and the governments we live under since the Reagan era. There is no truth in the fact that huge stores such as Home Depot, Future Shop, Best Buy, etc. are the primary reason why we are getting goods cheaper. What a ridiculous notion. The exact inverse is true – the more competition each manufacturing and distribution system has, the cheaper we get our products and the better their quality as well. I don’t think this needs to be explained.

Now returning to the premise of this article: the incongruent ideas that people have about the function of the economic system in their everyday lives. I’m absolutely flabbergasted when I hear it reported in the paper or on T.V that a company such as Telus had profit revenues in 2010 of $2.55 billion dollars with a net profit of $227 million dollars. When I hear people talk about how good this must be for the economy, etc., I wonder just how much they know about the economy? Do they own shares in Telus? Most often of course the answer is a resounding no. So why do they care? How do they think Telus earns these profits? Who owns these shares, the general public? Not likely.

People are afflicted with the Midas complex when it comes to large multinational companies. There is a consistent idea in regular middle class people with whom I have spoken that these companies are directly responsible and representative of the North American dream. People actually feel excitement, as if they’re living vicariously through these multinational/transnational corporations. This is strange – I don’t know what to call it, this unnatural pervasive idea that people seem to have that if these companies are successful, they are too.

During my many talks with regular people I would hear things like, “I really respect that company” or “I get X product cheaper because this big box store has such incredible purchasing power.” I don’t understand why it isn’t patently obvious to most people that this isn’t true at all. The manufacturers of these products need to get their goods from the factory floor into your home or business, and whether they do it through one big box store or a hundred smaller companies is beside the point. The tooling of their factories are set to produce a specific widget at a specific price point, and while the manufacturer may benefit from making large purchases of raw materials, this benefit is not in direct relation to, or influenced by, one store buying 1000 units of a product from them or ten stores buying 100 units each. They are still selling 1000 units of the product and meeting their own volume requirements. If one or two of the smaller stores wish to increase the movement of a product they may reduce their prices to attract customers to purchase it at their store instead of a competitor’s. This is why we had competition and much stricter anti-monopoly legislation in the past.

If anything, when a big box store approaches a manufacturer in a developing economy with the promise of massive purchases but only if they get a huge discounted price, it is the workers in that economy who pay the price by reduced wages and often intolerable working conditions. The truth of the matter is that the big box store, during the course of driving out competition with predatory pricing, adversely affects the workers of the manufacturing company, destroys local smaller businesses, and, as the competition folds, will continue to gain purchasing power through even more predatory demands on the manufacturer. Eventually they succeed in creating a monopoly, and the prices that we pay creep back up to the level they were at the start of this process of destruction of smaller competitive entities. And now instead of having 100 customers the manufacturers have only a few and they rely on them for their very existence. So the cycle continues: the workers continue to have to take wage cuts so the manufacturer can make money, and because of the lack of any real competition the prices the consumer pays continue to rise. The only winner is the massive big box store – everyone else involved loses.

There is much more to say but I think for this post we have covered enough – I will get back to a part two as soon as I’m finished some other articles that I’m working on.

Until next time,

R.

 

 

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