Wake Me From This Progressive Dream
Americans are being fleeced by a tiny mandarinate of specially-privileged monopolists. But where is the outrage? This special guest essay pours the cold water of reality onto millions of sleeping losers.
by Joel S. HirschhornOur national economic inequality keeps plaguing me and I keep running into strange realities. Am I dreaming? All around I see Americans who, despite growing economic inequality, have the illusion that they are doing just fine in our growing, prosperous economy. Why don't they share my anger that U.S. income inequality grew last year, as the richest fifth of households took home 50.4 percent of all income, their largest share since the government began tracking the data in 1967.
They look at their lives and feel proud that they are able to consume so many impressive consumer goods that commercials scream about, movies and TV show us, and stores happily sell us on credit. They do not dwell on the gigantic level of outsourcing of manufacturing to low labor cost countries over the past several decades. They do not depress themselves with the reduced incomes here in the U.S. Hard to believe but, adjusted for inflation, men's earnings were lower in 2005 than they were in 1973! This stuns me.
They have not become obsessed like me about rising economic inequality. They are not reading articles on Internet sites about our delusional prosperity for the people on the losing end of economic inequality. They are not constantly reminding themselves that mere possession of goods does not tell the whole story about income or wealth. They do not get angry when hearing about increases in the GDP, even though such numbers say nothing about the distribution of income and wealth.
In my recurring dream the evil, devious but ingenious consumerism foundation of the American economy keeps proclaiming victory – such a brilliant way to keep Lower Class working- and middle-class Americans peaceful, docile and even hopeful. Though I keep seeing millions of people losing out as the expanding economy mostly benefits the Upper Class, my fellow Americans keep consuming, oblivious to how that keeps a corrupt system alive. They just keep marching with "consumer confidence" to the beat of delusional prosperity.
Visions of class warfare erupting in the USA keep reappearing in my dream, but few others seem even to think about this. The population at large FEELS good because of high consumption equality, despite their incredible debt. Collectively, this army of consumers has the power to change the economy. But individually they only keep buying more stuff that not so many years ago would have seemed impossible. They are drugged by consumption. So many high-tech, electronic gizmos available as affordable and NECESSARY consumer products. I see an American culture with one purpose. To provide continuing stimuli for consumption. Borrow more, buy more, owe more, worry more. No matter that virtually nothing bought is made in the USA. Sure, the Upper Class has access to an incredible array of luxury goods and services and an increasing financial capability to afford them. But the "losers" in our economy stay glued to their large plasma screen TVs and their high-tech computers, plugged into their cell phones and Ipods, consuming more crap food, remaining politically disengaged and distracted – but seemingly confident – consumers. Debt feeds their consumption addiction. Revolt is not on their minds. No matter what progressive writers say, the rich and powerful elites keep control. Consumers keep spending, elites keep increasing income and wealth inequality.
Where were the mobs in the streets of Manhattan when this news came out: In 2005 Wall Street's top five investment banks paid out $20 BILLION in bonuses? No wonder that the number of apartments in New York City costing more than $10,000 A MONTH increased by 54 percent in just a year. Where is the public screaming about the people who own private jets outright or fractionally that had an average annual income of $9.2 million in 2005, and an average net worth of $89.3 million, which enabled them to spend an average of $248,000 on jewelry, $107,000 on spa services, and $117,000 on clothes and accessories IN JUST ONE YEAR! How much more obscene inequality is needed to spark a revolution?
Wait – you say – what about all that wealth possessed by working- and middle-class Americans in terms of their home ownership. I say: just another delusion, just another piece of economic propaganda from corporate headquarters. Home "ownership" is mostly consumer debt, yet another trick of the boss elites. They were not only smart enough to ensure easy consumerism; they were also smart enough to create delusional prosperity and happiness through home ownership. Why expect class warfare to break out as long as Lower Class Americans are satiated with their consumption and home ownership? My fellow pacified Americans are blind to being screwed by the elites. They gobble up easily available money to borrow – what genius to keep interest rates low! Drugged consumers kept working long hours and multiple jobs, so tired and so stressed out that they remain disengaged politically – choosing not to vote at all, or falling victim to right (conservative) or left (liberal) propaganda and voting for Republicans or Democrats – not comprehending that both major parties are run by the same group of rich and powerful elitists. Is this a terrific game or what?
Have these millions of willing victims fallen victim to some bizarre parasitic disease that eats brain cells? Are we witnessing an army of consumer zombies? Once people are infected by – let's call it the Elitist Worm – they become trapped, mesmerized by their own cycle of work, consumption and debt, their immune or defense system immobilized. No longer able to critically think and evaluate the system they sustain. Are they slaves as in the conventional historic model? Not at all. They are Americans! with so many constitutionally protected rights and freedoms that they barely notice, once infected, that their fabled great American democracy has robbed them – literally – of their economic health, and not just now. Infection by the Elitist Worm, like some undetected computer virus, will only make things worse over time.
Delusional Democracy: Fixing the Republic
Without Overthrowing the Government
by Joel Hirschhorn
More information here
A housing bubble? The whole damn economy is one economic bubble. Yet despite their continuing loss of economic health, as if in a dream state, they remain obedient consumers of stuff and debt. They watch the Upper Class with envy, hoping against hope that they will be that long shot winner that rises up from the Lower Class by realizing the American dream and becoming RICH! Delusional democracy and prosperity breeds delusions of upward mobility that once actually existed here in the United States of Delusion. Not slaves, just deluded free, men and women, hard workers, trying to be optimistic, often through religious faith, even as they know in some part of their consciousness that the system has beaten them.
Why bother voting anymore in our free elections? The game is stacked against them. No politicians will come to the rescue. Some actually eagerly anticipate the end of days – Armageddon. [I went to countdown.org to check on how close we're getting – good news! – we're on track. That's one way to deal with economic inequality. Better yet, the doomsayers see this truth: "It seems like the more gadgets & luxuries with which man tries to find happiness & satisfaction, the more discontented & miserable he becomes!"] So maybe people are not as happy as they pretend to be. But fully facing our ugly economic and political reality in the here and now is repressed through what psychologists call defensive cognitive dissonance. Truth will not set you free, just cause pain.
Better not be fully aware of the awful predicament they are in. Good jobs going overseas, so why bother to get college degrees? Illegal immigrants flooding in, so even jobs requiring physical skills are never going to pay well. Highly educated legal immigrants also pouring in, depressing professional salaries. All to provide more obscene salaries and stock options to corporate elites. No likely way in to the exclusive economic aristocracy that rules our land.
Yet there is this delusional hope resulting from the enormous size of America's Upper Class. Common folk know that there are MILLIONS of really rich and wealthy Americans – many MILLIONS of millionaires. People who just wealthy are becoming super-rich. Just look at all those $50,000+ cars out on the roads and all those multimillion dollar McMansions from coast to coast. Hard to tell yourself that you – Mr., Ms., and Mrs. Nobody – that you cannot join that huge number of financial successes. Keep dreaming, keep believing in America – land of opportunity. Buy another lottery ticket. Keep self-medicating by overeating unhealthy fast foods. Don't let all that ugly, painful truth in. Be thankful for Wal-Mart. Let the Elitist Worm keep rotting your brain as you move zombie-like through blissful consuming, borrowing and working long hours. Forget family time and free time. Forget getting good health insurance. Certainly forget any experimental treatment for the Elitist Bug designed to remove all the delusions, lies, dreams and propaganda from deep inside your brain.
Sooner or later the Elitist Worm will win. Your system will suddenly shutdown – job gone, no health insurance, sickness hits, real estate market crumbles, home gone, bankruptcy no longer wipes out your debt. Rebooting through class warfare and a Second American Revolution is like some science fiction scenario stuck in my dream. I keep imagining a courageous third-party candidate for president – some heroic John Wayne, Charlton Heston or John Galt character that will break through the corruption and rid the body politic of the endemic Elitist Worm. Some day.
But I recall reading the other day that in 2005 the U.S. population in prisons and jails reached a new high of 2,186,230 – I kept saying to myself "over TWO MILLION Americans are in prison and jails." It boggles my mind. The number increased by 2.6 percent from 2004 – more than double the rate of population growth. In 2002 the big news was that this imprisoned population had topped 2 million for the first time. I'm sure Bill O'Reilly feels proud of this progress. Selling American democracy abroad is not easy when about half of all the imprisoned people in the world are in American jails and prisons. More progress is assured. Many studies have found correlations between economic inequality and violent crime. Build more prisons! With cheap illegal immigrant labor of course. No matter. No other country – democracy or not – can top our prison rate. Let them have their universal health coverage. We are doing a great job protecting our Upper Class. Better yet, for those that suffer the most we have a solution – lock them up. And now and then, for appearance sake, also lock up just a few of the many corrupt politicians and corporate crooks. Keep delusional justice alive. All this imprisonment reminds me of Soylent Green. Wow! - that woke me up.
But now I see what our new national motto should be: FREEDOM FOR ALL, PROSPERITY FOR FEW.
Joel S. Hirschhorn's new book is Delusional Democracy – Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government; he can be reached through www.delusionaldemocracy.com.
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