Friday, January 10, 2014

The War Over Poverty

New Krugman:

And if progress against poverty has nonetheless been disappointingly slow — which it has — blame rests not with the poor but with a changing labor market, one that no longer offers good wages to ordinary workers. Wages used to rise along with worker productivity, but that linkage ended around 1980. The bottom third of the American work force has seen little or no rise in inflation-adjusted wages since the early 1970s; the bottom third of male workers has experienced a sharp wage decline. This wage stagnation, not social decay, is the reason poverty has proved so hard to eradicate.

Or to put it a different way, the problem of poverty has become part of the broader problem of rising income inequality, of an economy in which all the fruits of growth seem to go to a small elite, leaving everyone else behind.

More here.

"Lazy moochers," "just get off your ass and get a job," "welfare queen," none of that stuff is really working anymore.  I mean, as Krugman observes, the conservatives had a really good run with this kind of rhetoric, constructing and then implanting into the public consciousness the false notion that the poor are poor because it's their own fault, while at the same time using this rhetorical cover to dismantle protections against capitalism gone wild, which is the REAL reason the poor are poor.  But it's over now.  People can look around and see with their own eyes that for every job opening there are three applicants, that many, if not most, of the jobs that actually are available offer crap wages with no benefits and no future, but with a lot of anxiety and a lot of living paycheck-to-paycheck.

"Get off your ass and get a job" is just an insult when you're desperate for work, real work, that will pay your rent.  But that's all the conservatives have to say.  They offer nothing.  They're trapped in a language that simply can't speak to today's dismal economic reality.  And because they're trapped in a language that no longer has anything to do with the real world, if it ever did in the first place, conservatives necessarily cannot conceptualize that a massive problem with how we structure our economy even exists, which means that their economic "solutions" are simply an exercise in absurdity.  Cut taxes!  Deregulate business!  Rising tides and boats and yadda yadda!  We've been on that kick for three decades.  All it's done is make things much, much worse. 

There's something in the air.  The right wing has overplayed its hand.  The times they are a changing.  People are starting to see that the conservatives are all washed up, starting to see that the world they assert does not exist.  This libertarian fantasy, this all-business all-the-time vision of America, this cutthroat competition model for human existence is on the way out.  It has been nothing but a very sad and self-destructive detour down the wrong road.  But America is waking up.  Libertarianism will be swept into the dustbin of history, and in the coming decades we will laugh at the notion that anybody ever believed this crap-philosophy.  That's when we'll finally be able to move forward as a nation again.  That's when we'll have the right to call ourselves great.

But not just yet.  We've got a lot of dead-enders out there, and they continue to wield a great deal of institutional power.  And they've dug themselves in, barricaded themselves within their institutional bunkers.  Simply knowing the truth is not enough.  There's a lot of work to do.