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I got a White House email dated 7/21.  It spoke of Pres. Obama's economic vision - "a vision that says America is strongest when everybody's got a shot at opportunity".  It goes on to describe it as "a consistent vision for the middle class".

I feel there are aspects of this which need to be addressed.  Before I discuss the issues, let me make clear it's not my intention to single-out Obama for something which is widespread.  However, Obama's staff happened to be the ones who sent me an email calling this an "economic vision" and making an effort to draw attention to it.

I've seen wording like this over and over from our politicians and media.  Virtually every time we hear mainstream talk about who in the country might not be getting what they need, who needs "opportunity", etc. - what we're told is "the middle class" (or sometimes "small business").  Yes, as income inequality grows in the US, there are more people who used to have middle incomes and are now more in the lower income range.  But are we supposed to sift through the people in lower incomes, find those who used to have middle incomes, and then help them while ignoring the rest?

The middle income section of our society is shrinking.  Companies are moving operations to cheap labor countries.  And moving other operations to states with anti-union laws, lower minimum wages, lower average incomes and fewer government services for the needy.  The current federal minimum wage is far lower than the federal minimum wage of 1968 [if expressed in 2013 dollars].  Over the past period, most companies have eliminated their pension plans.  Executive pay has skyrocketed, but real wages for the rest of us have declined.  The fact that more people are poor today isn't just a matter of being lazy or something.  These are problems that don't only apply to those who currently are or previously were getting middle incomes.

To anyone who believes we should just be talking about "the middle class" and assume the poor brought poverty upon themselves, I say: Offer an appropriate job with decent pay to every person who lacks one [and doesn't have a medical reason preventing it] and give the job to any who accept the offer.  Then you can feel holier than thou about people who refuse the offer.  If you ask me where will we get all these jobs, I ask back, "If there simply are no jobs the poor could be employed in, why are you blaming them for being poor?"

I'm also uncomfortable about the White House's "...America is strongest when everybody's got a shot..."  First of all, this is a basic humanitarian concept.  Fairness and opportunity is not something that applies to some people and not to those in other nations.  But even if you don't really care that strongly about what happens to people "over there", we live in a globalized world.  If one can't look at things from any perspective than a selfish one, you can still see this from that vantage point.  When workers in third world countries have to work in fire-trap sweatshops for a pittance, in response market forces push down wages, benefits and working conditions in the US.  We're hurting ourselves somewhat by speaking of what we should be doing in only one country - and we will be causing even greater harm to our children by that approach.

The dog-eat-dog world promoted by many conservatives may bring that harm to us and our children at a faster pace.  Nevertheless, by focusing on "the middle class" and "Americans", we let the 1% divide and conquer.  It's a losing strategy for the 99%.  It's not an "economic vision" which puts us in the best position to be humanitarians or to simply stop further victimization by the 1%.

Originally posted to workingwords on Mon Jul 22, 2013 at 12:30 PM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (5+ / 0-)

    "We all too often have socialism for the rich and rugged free capitalism for the poor." - Martin Luther King Jr.

    by workingwords on Mon Jul 22, 2013 at 12:30:11 PM PDT

  •  Intriguing points (0+ / 0-)

    but what then is the economic vision we should be pursuing beyond providing equal opportunity?

    Blue is blue and must be that. But yellow is none the worse for it - Edith Sidebottom

    by kenwards on Mon Jul 22, 2013 at 12:51:04 PM PDT

    •  a few ideas (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Lorikeet, Words In Action

      1) Reduce wealth inequality

      2) Reduce middlemen (for instance, single payer health care. Canadians pay a lot less per capita, and it would free up people for other jobs)

      3) Promote better pay and conditions in developing nations. (It helps the less fortunate and makes it harder for businesses to play those workers against US workers)

      4) End "Too big to jail" treatment of big business, so wrecking the economy has consequences

      5) Make college less expensive.  If nothing else, give student loans at non-profit interest rates.

      6) Don't always wait for essential economic shifts to become profitable.  For instance, if it were determined avoiding a climate tipping point required a switch to solar power before it was profitable, the government should manufacture and/or operate the needed facilities.

      7) As economic policy depends on politics, get big money out of politics

      "We all too often have socialism for the rich and rugged free capitalism for the poor." - Martin Luther King Jr.

      by workingwords on Mon Jul 22, 2013 at 01:47:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  On the Equality of Opportunity (3+ / 0-)

    Good quote:

    "What we in America understand by equality is equality of opportunity.  We have not even got that, but that is the American ideal—equality of opportunity.  We have not got it because there is no such thing as equal opportunity for our children as long as the economic situation of the parents is so desperately unequal…It means equal opportunity for the unequal to show their inequality…And there are a great many Americans who are infatuated with the belief that that state of society would be most satisfying in which artificial privilege was abolished, in which all the differences of talent, or gift, or energy etc. should have free play….so long as it is my ability, that is, my natural privilege, gives me the advantage of you…And it is not even true that the naturally privileged, that those who are finely privileged come to the top, it is rather those whose elbows are sharp and those whose shoes are shod with iron."

    ~ Felix Adler, "The Opening of New Horizons in the Future of Mankind," 1924

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