Speak Your Piece: Divide and Conquer
Who's going to be on top? That's what this election is all about.
Sergio Furnari's ironworkers sculpture, from a 1932 photograph.
The news media are on their collective ear about how they could have missed predicting the winner in the New Hampshire Democratic Primary. The most reasonable excuse (pardon me, explanation) is that Hillary showed a new side of her persona after the polling was completed, and that bringing out her emotions brought out more voters in her favor.
When the polling industry finally has enough power, I expect someone to suggest that we cut out expensive elections and the possibility of voter fraud by allowing pollsters to select our leaders.
That would not be as unusual a turn as it might seem. Even now, many or our largest corporations seek to influence government by regularly hiring former high officials for their influence and connections. Recently it has come to light that John Ashcroft may have been improperly selected from one company's shortlist for a favorable contract. And Tony Blair is doing well now that he’s left public life; even US based corporations crave his “advice.” Karl Rove is seen regularly in the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal, which reminds some of us that, for better or worse, like nearly every other business in the US, many of our news media are corporations, too.
Newspaper coverage in America is no longer as diverse as it once was. Large newspapers, challenged by the Internet, have consolidated, and many have closed down at least some of their operations. More and more news organizations are concentrated into fewer and fewer hands, leading up to the question, “How diverse, and how independent, is news coverage?” At the crux of that question is election polling. Are the parameters of a poll skewed based on the desired outcome? There’s really no way to tell. But erroneous predictions in a hotly contested race seem counter productive when the only thing that really needs to happen is for voters to cast their ballots.
Coincidence or not, it’s the news media that do a lot of the polling before elections. Always careful to qualify predictions with a plus or minus range of error, telephone polling seeks to predict what people will do before they do it. But it almost seems as though these surveys, by making their findings public, are trying to influence people who have not yet taken the critical action of pulling that voting booth lever or marking the box beside a certain name. It seems right to question the objectives of businesses, no matter what services they may deliver, even though such questioning may not seem politically correct to our leaders.
One candidate in particular, I’ve noticed, seems to have a difficult time even being mentioned in the same breath with the other two leaders in his party. Over the last few days I also noticed that one particular TV network seemed to do an extraordinarily poor job of placing him in front of the camera. The lighting was poor, and the camera lens almost seemed to be distorted. I’ve met the man many times, and I’m well aware of what he looks like. The TV camera was not offering a fair representation. Was it accidental, or on purpose? Given that his rhetoric was not flattering to corporations, I have to wonder.
Even as that candidate has said that not all corporations are bad, this election almost seems to be the last great hope for those of us who want to see our nation turned back from the brink. We’re hoping to see some change of policy on a broad scale that will bring back hope by bringing back the jobs. In places like Cambodia, Indonesia, or China, workers may earn $50 to $75 per month. That’s less than starvation wages here, but in those nations it represents a sea change, or at least that’s what we’re told about the 12-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week jobs. We’re also told that worker rights and protections are vigorously guarded by inspectors. But the inspectors in most places work under instructions to call before checking a factory. Illegal or underage workers are told not to report that day, and pollution filters are turned on, only to be turned off as soon as inspectors depart. Can this really be why America has conceded its manufacturing greatness, or is it simply so that corporations can have access to a work force that’s grateful for a penny on the dollar?
Here in Missouri, our conservative leadership in the state capitol proudly points to a steady tax burden, free of increase for average Missourians, but while corporate taxes have never been lower, in 2007 Missourians themselves paid four percent more while total revenue increased. Where I come from, paying more in taxes equals a tax increase. It seems that even as workers in this country are asked to give up so much, there is no shame for what our government will continue to take.
The price of most things we buy is going up as the Federal Reserve continues to talk interest rate cuts to offset a feared recession. But much of the interest cut we’ve received goes into the pockets of big banks stung by the sub prime loan implosion. Freeing up more depreciating dollars just so American consumers can help retailers sell more imported goods will do little for real Americans. With jobs, and opportunity, Americans will buy whatever they want with earnings. Credit has become a substitute for productivity”¦and pay. There is no future in that. And no justice.
Candidates who want to speak of the future, of change and of hope, need to address the true facts of the declining American lifestyle. Health care takes much of the blame for high business-operating costs. Until we cure the major fiscal illness of health care costs, we will accomplish little else. But that problem has become simply a blame game. Government workers by and large have very good health care and retirement. Many lucky corporate workers do, too. The secret to conquering blue collar work forces has been to divide and conquer them. Improperly constructed retirement accounts, which regulators have permitted aggressive, corrupt managers to disappear from view, were just the start. Health care is another scapegoat, and taxes. We always fail to fix the real problems, preferring to fix imagined ones with high management salaries and little enforcement of white collar crime against workers and shareholders.
Somewhere along the line our government leaders adopted the easy practice of divide and conquer. A good example is the Social Security notch babies. They were a group chosen arbitrarily to receive smaller payments simply because of when they were born. Too small a group to be a threat to politicians at the polls, notch babies had to take it or leave it.
Now at the polls themselves we have seen voters’ rights taken away arbitrarily. Those too old, too poor, or just too tired to fight unjust voter ID laws must simply give up their right to vote. They have no choice, and it’s the perfect political ploy. Not only are they too small in number to harm their offending leaders, but because they’ve lost the right to vote, there is nothing they can do. Nothing.
Just as many residents of New Orleans have found, corporate workers that lose their jobs drift on the winds of change, and become divided. They move to other cities, or states, to find work, to search for hope. The jobs they find may be poor compared to what they had, but divided as they are there is no one to investigate or report, no one to know. They are conquered.
And so the Federal Reserve cuts interest rates by printing more money just so that relocated depreciated workers will be sure to have the cash to buy foreign goods in support of the $75 per month peasants who replaced them, goods that they themselves once manufactured. Trade today is less about buying and selling, and more about trading our own security for the dubious refuge of third world jobs.
When the wars and the interest rate cuts all stop, when we are down to the day-to-day situation of living with the economy that has been built for us, who in America will be on top?
That’s what this election is all about.
Richard Oswald writes the Letter From Langdon column for the Daily Yonder. This appeared in the newsletter of the Organization for Competitive Markets.