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Saving the system to what end?

by Lance Manion Sunday, Aug. 15, 2010 at 3:15 PM

People don’t like the system. In fact they hate it. The system has made them miserable for going on thirty years.

Saving the system to what end?

by Lance Manion

President Obama and the Democrats set out to save the system and succeeded.

Unfortunately for them.

People don’t like the system.

In fact they hate it.

The system has made them miserable for going on thirty years.

The system is this: The bankers and the stockbrokers run everything, they and their richest clients get rich and richer, the rest of us hope that some of the buckets they’re holding up to catch all the money raining down from the sky overflow into our outstretched hands.

The trouble is that the rich use awfully big buckets.

There’s very little spillage.

What there is runs through people’s hands like water.

The system doesn’t care. The system’s operating as it’s supposed to. It’s too bad for us if we can’t catch water in our hands.

The system doesn’t care if we live or die. The system is set up so that the well-being of individuals is irrelevant. Ten percent, eleven percent, twelve percent unemployment? The system can handle that just fine.

The system could probably handle fifteen percent unemployment as long as the 85 percent with jobs work harder and produce more while accepting less money and fewer benefits, which, surprise, surprise, has been the situation---the given!---for thirty years.

The system is set up to make a few people rich while keeping enough of the rest of us fed, clothed, and sheltered, and relatively healthy so that we’re in a condition show up for work no matter how miserable that work is.

People understand this about the system: In it they matter only in so far as they are productive, and productivity is measured by how much an individual contributes to making rich people richer.

Most individuals contribute very little to making rich people richer.

Most individuals are actually a drag on rich people getting richer. Individuals cost too much. You have to actually pay them to do work.

Then they don’t spend enough of what they get paid in ways that make rich people richer.

People who aren’t rich, that is, most people, understand that from a certain point of view they are nearly worthless.

And they understand that the country is run by people who share that point of view.

Ten percent unemployment is not the only problem.

Another, huge problem is that people know that they can wake up tomorrow and be one of the unemployed and when they do they will become completely worthless.

Nobody likes feeling worthless.

It makes them angry. It makes them resentful. It makes them self-loathing because they can’t help feeling---and the system encourages them to believe---it’s their fault they’re worthless.

It makes them afraid.

It makes them desperate.

It makes them sad.

The President and the Democrats set out to save the economy.

What they saved was the system.

An economy is not just the way material wealth is generated.

An economy is the collection of arrangements people make with each other to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves, and that takes more than merely earning money and having it to spend.

An economy isn’t simply a function of you and I have having jobs. An economy is me watching your house and taking in your mail while you are away. An economy is you giving me a ride to work when my car’s in the shop. An economy is you and I spending our money at the local hardware store instead of at Lowe’s because the owner’s a neighbor and his daughter plays on our kids’ soccer team. An economy is the owner of the hardware store recommending a retired plumber he knows who does good work at reasonable rates. An economy is about people whose mutual self-interests have them looking out for each other.

Economies are exchanges of more than money. They are exchanges of trust, support, comfort, aid, advice, concern, and even love.

Put that way, economies sound like friendships.

And in a way that’s what they are.

Friendships that extend on a grand scale to people we don’t even know and will never know.

In an ideal economy those bonds of friendship are strong. Strangers matter to each other. Everybody is seen to be contributing and therefore everybody has worth. The point in any dealing with other people isn’t how much money can be made off them but that they are at the moment contributing to making our lives possible. In such an economy a good babysitter can be worth every bit as much as good mechanic, a volunteer librarian worth more than a stockbroker.

The system operates as if that is never true.

The President’s advisors---his political advisors---persist in seeing the economy as if it is only the system and they want to deal with our economic woes as purely a systemic failure. Having saved the system, they seem to think they’ve saved the economy and now the only job they have left is to help the people who’ve been most hurt by the recession.

They don’t seem to understand the degree to which the system has been hurting everybody.

Even the people it’s been making rich.

It’s made them callous and criminally greedy to the point of being sociopathic.

It’s encouraged them to judge their own lives and the lives of others by how much money they made today.

Rich people live in fear of waking up tomorrow and finding out they are totally worthless too.

We have a system that works by people using other people as tools to make money.

That’s antithetical to the idea of a functioning economy in which people survive and thrive by helping each other.

The President and the Democrats saved the system. And the Republicans can’t thank them enough. Republicans like the system. It makes them rich, and that’s all they care about, which is why they aren’t going to do anything to fix anything. As far as they’re concerned, everything’s fixed that needs fixing.

It seems strange that a lot of people who hate the system and hate how it makes them feel worthless are going to vote Republican in the fall, that is, they will vote to preserve the system they hate. There are a number of reasons for this. One of them is that although they hate the system and hate how it makes them feel a critical mass of people still think it will somehow make them rich and then they won’t have to worry about it anymore and another critical mass of people still think that the system is all that stands between them and destitution---they hate the system and hate how it makes them feel but the only other system they can imagine is one that makes them feel worse.

These people are going to come out and vote.

But the real reason the Republicans might take control of Congress in the fall is that a lot of people who hate the system and hate how it makes them feel won’t come out and vote because they won’t see the point in choosing between two parties that are dedicated to preserving and perpetuating the system.

This is why a massive jobs bill is an imperative.

It won’t change the system overnight. But it will shake it up a little bit by creating an alternative to employment within it.

As long as people are dependent solely on the jobs created by the system they are dependent, period. They will feel it too, and that means they will feel powerless. And consequently they will be anxious, afraid, desperate, and self-hating.

If I don’t need your stinking job because I can get a better one driving rivets on a government funded bridge repair project, then that gives me some bargaining power with you. And if you decide not to bargain, it gives the person you need to replace me some bargaining power too. You might not want to pay that person as much as I wanted you to pay me, but you better offer her something more than she can get driving rivets and once you offer her that she now has bargaining power with her current employer and any other would-be employers.

Suddenly she and I have more worth than you wanted to allow us.

But more than that, a massive jobs bill would also be a massive infrastructure bill and that would be a step towards restoring the economy.

The system is set up solely to make lots of money.

As long as the system defines the economy we will live in a country where most of us are nearly worthless.

But building bridges, building schools, building libraries, building firehouses, hospitals, and police stations, laying railroad track, paving and repaving roads, wiring the whole country for broadband, re-wiring the whole country so that a heat wave doesn’t threaten us with nationwide power outages, dredging rivers, cleaning up parks, opening new parks, all of this is a statement that an economy is more than a matter of making money.

It is about building and maintaining a decent society. It is about people living together in ways that serve their mutual self-interests. It is about being friendly and neighborly on a small and grand scale because that’s how human beings survive as human beings as opposed to as machines and tools.

It is about taking care of each other so that we can all feed, clothe, and shelter ourselves without undo hardship and worry and fear.

It is about all of us feeling that we are worth something to each other.

Lance Mannion on Thursday, July 08, 2010 in Where the money is

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