Monday, August 06, 2007

Dumbness as Not Thinking

My comments on Edinburgh yesterday implied that we need a full rethinking of the meaning of EARNED income. What is "earned" vs. "unearned" and how should they be rewarded?

This issue is a sleeping giant for middle and working-class people, since we live on earned income - wages and salaries from clocked worktime and personal output. And yet we live in countries where policy is made largely by and for unearned income people, known as investors. Our investment income is generally minor, and if you discount the value of the house we live in that we may own, and the value of our pension or 401k plan, our investment income barely exists.

At the moment when the share of national income going to wages is lower than it has been anytime since World War II, we might want to think about this. But once business leaders got the right to fire any number of people at any time for "business reasons" - which now include not just impending bankruptcy but somewhat increased revenues and hence stock value - the status of work and labor have been taken off the table. No one who utters the phrase "capital and labor" - or has a good word for "Clause IV" style ideas that workers should keep most or some big fair share of the value they create - will be covered by the U.S. media. Search the websites of Democratic candidates for a positive use of the term "labor," or "worker." The closest we now come in American politics are cant euphemisms like "America's working families." As a result, we can remain in the state of dumbness known as NOT THINKING about why the great majority of us are working harder to stay in place.

I know this sounds like an exaggeration, but perhaps you can see more easily how NOT THINKING works when you look at powerful censorship effects in foreign policy. Father Frank Rich's most recent Sunday sermon offers many examples. Here's one section:
The same playbook was followed by the war’s champions when a soldier confronted Donald Rumsfeld about the woeful shortage of armor during a town-hall meeting in Kuwait in December 2004. Rather than campaign for the armor the troops so desperately needed, the right attacked the questioner for what Rush Limbaugh called his “near insubordination.” When The Washington Post some two years later exposed the indignities visited upon the grievously injured troops at Walter Reed Medical Center, The Weekly Standard and the equally hawkish Wall Street Journal editorial page took three weeks to notice, with The Standard giving the story all of two sentences. Protecting the White House from scandal, not the troops from squalor, was the higher priority.
This continuous burying and silencing and simple lying has concrete results, namely, the kind of dumbness that we see all the time in US politics, where, as one example, the Democratic representatives of "America's working families" give away power that will be used against us. This weekend's example is that Congressional Democrats agreed to the Bush administration's wiretapping bill, which Bush immediately signed. It allows wiretapping without warrants on calls that take place partly in the United States. The taps can be authorized by the Attorney General. The Dems have thus given a huge new power over the public to the executive branch.

If you need more examples of politicians not thinking - and helping others not to think - see Paul Krugman's piece on the presidential campaign. Sigh.

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