Wage slavery refers to a situation perceived as quasi-voluntary slavery, where a person's livelihood depends on wages, especially when the dependence is total and immediate. It is a negatively connoted term used to draw an analogy between slavery and wage labor by focusing on similarities between owning and renting a person. The term wage slavery has been used to criticize economic economic exploitation and social stratification, with the former seen primarily as unequal bargaining power between labor and capital (particularly when workers are paid comparatively low wages, e.g. in sweatshops), and the latter as a lack of workers' self-management, fulfilling job choices and leisure in an economy. The criticism of social stratification covers a wider range of employment choices bound by the pressures of a hierarchical society to perform otherwise unfulfilling work that deprives humans of their "species character" not only under threat of starvation or poverty, but also of social stigma and status diminution. - wikipediaThis past week I've been reminded once again how stark the difference is between two factions of this party on socioeconomic policy and economic justice. To be accurate, this distinction is never far. I see it every week. But this week especially, in the conversations about social security and the notion of "eliminate the cap, cap the benefit" (which I will refer hereafter to as ECCB).
In these discussions, a few different reasons were given as to why this was a bad idea. However, in each thread I saw in which these reasons were carefully examined, at base, in my view, they were fronts for an underlying resentment, a sense that somehow such an approach would not be fair to those who put in but do not get to take out of the insurance policy.
(This would be especially ironic for those who casually engage in other forms of insurance fraud--which is not rare at all, whether auto or homeowner's--as part of how they would get into a position of not being able to collect if benefits were capped.)
One group says that SS would cease to be wage insurance if ECCB were implemented. Huh? MOST categories and forms of insurance have caps and terms and conditions under which benefits either are not paid or their rates are reduced. So I find this argument a red herring, a decoy from real reasons for disliking ECCB.
This group also says that by introducing a "means test," by adjusting benefits based on income, we would open SS to other "means tests", such as being required to pee in a cup to receive your insurance benefit. As if any social program is not already and always under threat of being rolled back or eliminated. As if they could ever be more exposed. As if the whole goddamn reason we are having this discussion in the first place isn't because SS is on the chopping block as we speak! Christ on a cracker!
And then there's the yada-yada-yada about FDR and the careful maneuvering and such to implement the program in the first place, to make it more palatable and less susceptible to repeal, because there's such a large segment of society (including them, as it turns out) that worries more about whether someone making less would get an "unwarranted" benefit than they worry that someone making more may be getting an "unwarranted" benefit by the "earnings" they receive in the first place.
And this is where the chess board illusion disappears.
At this point ECCB opponents call it "wealth redistribution." This attack can go in a couple of different directions.
Down one path, "wealth redistribution" should be reserved for the income tax code. Which of course is how we deal with all the other safety net needs, right? And because we have been so effective at dealing with those needs upstream, such as through income taxes or say, the distribution of wealth where it happens. Yeah, our neoliberals are all over that.
Down another path, the "middle class is against people getting something for nothing," as if a) ECCB would give someone "something for nothing," and b) no segments of society other than those who retire completely dependent upon social security are the only ones ever in a position to "get something for nothing."
The rest of the twists on these arguments basically arrive at the same point: the neoliberals among us share with Mitt Romney and Republicans in general a sense that
1) The 47% (er, closer to 90%) basically deserve what they get out of the economy
2) The 1% (or 2%) "earn" what they get relative to the rest of the population, no matter how disproportionate
3) The economy is close enough to fair not to warrant much tinkering
4) Neither the 90% nor the 47% are so bad off
5) The private sector is better than the public sector
6) Extraordinarily concentrated wealth is absolutely necessary to have investment and run the economy (even though the capital is just as likely to sit on the sidelines or go gambling on derivatives...)
There is a debt crisis, of course, but no income inequality crisis.
And this is really what it is all about, folks.
This is the crowd that will also argue that executives deserve their $5, $10, $15 and $20 million dollar compensation packages, their exorbitant bonuses, and their 7-, 8-, even 9-figure parachutes, regardless of performance and in spite of the deprivation this forces upon the rest of the workforce.
Because nobody with any talent or self-respect would work for less. Which is why the Bank of North Dakota, that socialistic fortress, is doing so poorly. Because the bank President and CEO makes $232K. Which is why he and his exectuive team are so incompetent, the bank is floundering, and its patrons and the taxpayers are the worse for it. NOT.
This is a neoliberal lie. And our neoliberals support it.
This is the crowd that accepts globalization as a practical, even desirable, fact of life, and rejects the notion that trade policies would work or should even be considered. Because of course these would distort the market, put the U.S. at a disadvantage, etc., etc. Pull back those layers and once again the real reason is simply that the tippy top of the pyramid would have to sacrifice. Those in the 90% who suffer from globalization by constantly getting laid off and lower wages are simply facing things that cannot be changed. Sha-la-la man. Cue the serenity prayer.
These are neoliberal lies. And our neoliberals support them.
And this is why, after three decades of 1%er neoliberalism finally produced a financial collapse that would have destroyed the economy for the 1% at the expense of the 99% which once again save them, as is the new normal since the S&L crisis and BCCI, our neoliberals defend the banksters, not breaking up banks TBTF and lack of regulatory enforcement, rather than go to the mat for jailing them, putting derivatives in shackles, stopping the robo-signings, managing the foreclosures equitably, and slamming down some serious stimulus that scales to the size of the economic needs of the workers victimized by these criminals and their blatant scams.
Because not only have the aristocrats gained enormous power and influence, but the supply-side economics and the underlying socioeconomic attitudes have become not only socially acceptable but respectable. So much so that much of society, all neoliberals, to be sure, cannot even see the plutocracy, the concentration of wealth, the grossly constricted social mobility, the wage slavery that globalization and supply-side economics have created. If they did, we would know.
You can show our neoliberals those income distribution charts all you want -- you know, the ones that show what people think the distribution is, what they think it should be, and what it is? -- and they will give you a Dick Cheney. No, not "go fuck yourself," but "So?" Then again, that basically is "go fuck yourself." Because it sure as heck means they aren't going to sweat over it.
When neoliberals look at unemployment, they see a simple fact of the marketplace, of reality. They do not see something that could or should be eliminated. And they certainly do not see how its elimination would help them or the general welfare. What they do see are people who are lazy, won't make the effort to compete, won't take the jobs available, don't bother to make themselves marketable in the U.S. segment of the globalized marketplace, etc. And what they do see is a recovery of the 1% that is reducing the unemployment as being a good thing, even if it means that once again the 99% are trading down on earnings to remain or become employed. In spite of the fact that most have been trading down for three decades already.
When neoliberals look at under-employment, they don't see employers crafting part-time jobs in order to avoid the costs of benefits. They don't see workers caught between choosing unemployment benefits and non-livable earnings. They don't see the social impact of that. They don't see the economic impact of that. They surely don't see the injustice of it. What they do see is employers making logical choices to compete in our globalized marketplace, giving customers the goods and prices they want. What they see is an unavoidable, acceptable reality, one which they believe the "recovery" of the 1% is addressing.
When neoliberals look at employment, they do not see three decades of wage decline or stagnation for the vast majority as anything but an unavoidable result of globalization. They do not see the impact of neoliberalism and supply-side economics gorging a few and squeezing the many. Again, they do not see the possibilities and justice of trade policies broadly established and enforced by the world's lone superpower (we can police the world, but we can't regulate its economy). What they do see is things the way they are and the way they basically must and should be.
Neoliberals do not understand wage slavery. They believe that wages are set by fundamental laws of supply and demand, that people earn basically what a fair, free market determines they should make. They do not see a labor market rigged to outrageously inflate 1% of the salaries while dramatically deflating upwards of 80% of them. They do not see people forced to work under conditions and for wages that could be considered more than regrettable. They do not see the threat of not having a job or being homeless in this economy as chaining people to poor conditions and un-livable wages as being a form of bondage. No shackles, no bondage. In short, they do not see that the something that the 90% gets for nothing is the short, short end of the stick.
If you suggest as much, neoliberals will laugh at your claims of so-called "oppression."
Even worse than been flat wrong on all aspects of steroidal Reagonomics, in so doing, neoliberals of all stripes make the plutocracy not only possible but inevitable. And those neoliberals who are not in the 1% are in every way, shape and form exactly like the clan leaders and those who serve them enthusiastically in Braveheart.
When I say "do not see," I do not actually mean that in all cases neoliberals, especially Democratic neoliberals, are actually not aware or they do not care at all. What I do mean is that effectively, the net result of their efforts and actions on the above issues is such that these clearly have little priority for them. In fact, they will trade down on these on behalf of those who suffer for it at the drop of a hat, and have been doing so for three decades. And they will tell those who suffer and those who support those who suffer to suck it up and stop demanding ponies and unicorns.
They would cut social security, for example, before they would implement ECCB.
And Climate Change, well, let's not do anything rash that might disturb the status quo and their comfort level. They'll take their chances with the climate as long as they can get a decent tee time, drink the right single malt, and fatten their 401Ks in the meantime. They're not certain Climate Change is a big deal, anyway. Their pocketbook tells them so.
You see, the neoliberals in the Democratic Party clearly are getting enough of what they want. They are essentially satisfied.
Why do I say that?
1) Because if they find anything about the current socioeconomic conditions regrettable, it's clearly not enough to start a crusade over. It is certainly not enough to inconvenience themselves over. They can wait some indefinite, most likely infinite number of elections to address the needs of those with less.
2) And, if we were to say, look, if you want our votes next year, you'll have to fight for our issues our way this year, they wouldn't do it. They will say the outcomes next year are critical, but they would not lift a finger for us, join our protests, fight our battles, in order to win their elections. They would sooner lose the elections and blame us.
So they will not be fighting any harder for our causes. This much we know all too fucking well.
This, to my mind, highlights a fatal flaw in the strategy of the Democratic Party. As constructed, the Democratic Party will never, ever even embrace, much less achieve, the principles and goals in its platform. With its current strategy, which is to pursue the platform with a faction that cares so little about the general welfare it is not only willing but in some cases eager to attack it, whether economically or through the abridgement of civil rights, we can only continue to fail ourselves and those and that which we would help. The 99% will suffer. The planet will suffer.
Here's my new sig: "What is the point of letting neoliberals in the tent when neoliberalism is burning down the campground?"
Some will argue that we will never win elections without them. That may be true. But let us not mistake them for being on our side. Let us not forget that they embrace the economic policies that destroy us. Let us not forget that all we are doing is taking a slower path to bondage and planetary destruction.
Some will argue that it will be even worse if Republicans are elected. That may be true. But we can save our energy from self-destructive tactics and pointless incrementalism and focus on strategies and tactics that provide solutions and attack our problems head on. Instead of being victims of "starve the beast" tactics, we can work outside the mainstream culture and economy and starve those beasts.
And who knows: perhaps if the pluto-democrats see that they can't get what they want without us, they will compromise with us instead of the Republicans. Perhaps instead they will jump over. Either way, we will know better what matters to them.
But given all these, what are we prepared to do?
Do we continue to work with neoliberals? Do we fight the neoliberals for our party, through primary battles and other means? Do we establish another party? Do we walk away from electoral politics and focus on protests and direct action?