February 12, 2007

New Populism?

A few days ago I picked up a bundle of recent New York Times out of the garbage. Not that I couldn't have just bought them, but most of the time I don't bother. I admit I kind of like the New York Times. It's intelligently written, but, especially when you have a chance to browse through a couple weeks' worth in one sitting, there's no escaping that it's another big media apologist and obfuscator, and not only on the obvious topics like the Iraq war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or the old chestnut that there is a meaningful distinction between Democrats and Republicans. I was on the lookout specifically for any articles on poverty and inequality, domestic or international, and I essentially found none.

There was one about a fast-food employer who was considered a newsworthy exemplar for not treating his employees like garbage. He still only pays them $7 an hour, but he claims he couldn't possibly afford more. No mention of benefits like health insurance. Should I stand up and clap? Another article argues bizarrely that the middle class can't be counted on to feel economically insecure -- by liberal politicians who may wish to tap into that feeling as a platform to attract votes -- because the economy is good and has been improving slightly. How well "the economy" is doing matters mostly to people who own a lot of stocks. To the average person, it can mean, at best, an anemic increase in wages, which the article itself reports as having been 1.6% in 2006. That should offset the fear of being on the brink of disaster when one is mired in debt and has little job security and no or inadequate health insurance?

Unexpectedly, there was an article in New York magazine, a magazine that was tucked away in the bundle of newspapers, that billed itself as "A call to arms for populism, before it's too late." Not that it hits the nail on the head (mentioning Lou Dobbs, twice, as an example of populism!), and it seems to have been inspired by "populism" as a new buzzword, but that the article is there at all is better than nothing I guess. "Populism has gotten a bad odor, and not just among plutocrats..... But I think that's about to change: When economic hope shrivels and the rich become cartoons of swinish privilege, why shouldn't the middle class become populists?" Well, they should, I suppose, but they probably won't, because socialism and populism have been so successfully demonized, because believing that you can make it even if you can't is more optimistic and hopeful than admitting how screwed you really are, because soothing your anxiety with the goods produced by capitalism, even if bought on credit, is more comforting than marching in the streets demanding justice, which would involve admitting that yes, you are one of the huddled masses, and not a soon-to-be rich fat cat whose ship just hasn't come in yet.

The US has been turned into a casino economy, the author argues, where a few winners inspire a frenzy of optimism in all the losers, thinking they too can hit the next big jackpot, but, like in all casinos, the odds are stacked mightily against the average player. Gambling should not be a model for living one's life, of course. "Risk taking is fabulous... -- but not when it's involuntary." And yet, here we are.


Anonymous Nihilo Zero said...

I'm adding your blog to my "Radical Links" blog/portal page.
Nihilo Zero

August 10, 2008 2:24 PM  
Anonymous asfo_del said...

Thanks, but but this is an old blog. My current blog, though I rarely update it these days, is at http://livingonless.org

August 10, 2008 7:09 PM  

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