AP had a story the other day about Baby Boomers putting off retirement and reconciling themselves to having to work till they drop.
The story, by John Rogers, looked at some of the reasons behind this, although taking the usual business reporting tone of “These things happen, what are you going to do?” as if the financial collapse that wiped out retirement savings was an act of God and not the result of a massive act of collective theft, fraud, and criminal incompetence and as if there’s no government that could do anything to salvage things, which, effectively, there isn’t, but still. That was annoying enough, but then, in surveying the decline in manufacturing that has taken place throughout the Boomers’ working lives, Rogers wrote this:
At the same time, companies began moving other jobs overseas, to be filled by people willing to work for far less and still able to connect to the U.S. market in real time.
Did you catch that phrasing?
“…filled by people willing to work for far less”
And far less? As in how far less? Subsistence level wages? Starvation wages? Essentially no wages, only rudimentary bed and board?
How about telling it as it is, like this:
Companies began moving as many jobs as they could overseas to places where people were so desperate they would work for pretty much slave wages, to countries where people of all ages, including children, could be forced to work till they dropped.
And like this:
At the same time, corporations at home decided it wasn’t worth the money to expand, innovate, or retool when they could increase profits by laying off workers, keeping wages down, shuttering factories, buying up the competition, with the goal of eventually cannibalizing themselves or selling themselves off to other cannibal corporations.
If the words Bain and Mitt just popped into your head, good.
Now maybe Rogers was just being lazy and not thinking about his phrasing or maybe he was being over-fussy in an attempt to be “balanced” and acknowledging that not every job that leaves the United States goes to China.
But I hear something else in that paragraph. The voice of the collective wisdom of the corporate elite and their flunkeys and apologists in Washington and the political press corps.
That voice speaks in a condescending and accusatory tone and says:
Shut up and stop whining. It’s your own fault anyway.
You’re the ones who bought houses you really couldn’t afford. You’re the ones who didn’t save enough. You’re the ones who didn’t invest in yourselves by going to college. You’re the ones who took jobs that didn’t make you rich and that you should have foreseen we were going to decide were inessential. You’re the ones who demanded benefits that are just not worth paying you.
Blaming the poor for their poverty is an old, old trick of the aristocracy. But because it sounds harsh and because it admits that there is such a thing as poverty, another trick is to guilt-trip the poor in a different way by telling them to count their blessings.
Look at how well off you are, comparatively. You could be living in one of those countries we’ve moved your old jobs to where you’d be wearing rags and living in squalor. So be thankful for your flat screen TV and your one dinner out a month at McDonalds. There are children working themselves into an early grave in China who would think you’re rich.
Like I said, I don’t know if Rogers was just being sloppy or over-fussy, but intentionally or not he echoes the voice of the 1%. That voice doesn’t shout, but it doesn’t mumble. It speaks in smug, confident tones it thinks are reasonable and persuasive but have the unmistakable sound of the lord of the manor lecturing the village folk on how they need to remember their place. And more and more lately that voice isn’t just directed at the poor. The middle class have been coming in for a scolding as well.
The Boomers’ big mistake was trusting their future to a system they expected to do for them what it had done for their parents and grandparents (although, because it was Morning in America, at less cost) but which had been reprogrammed by a greedy and conscienceless few who believed other people exist only to be used to serve their needs and increase their wealth.
That’s just the way it is, these things happen, nothing to be done about it, and if it means that most of us have to spend our golden years pushing brooms or bagging groceries, well, at least we have the consolation of knowing we’re not as bad off as those children in China and we can stop off at McDonalds on our way home from work we’re damn lucky to have to pick up a Value Meal to eat while watching the flat screen TV that only has ten payments left on it until it’s ours.