In not Of?
from Peter Radford
Today’s New York Times has a reminder of the damage the crisis has done to the economy, and, more importantly, to enduring attitudes towards opportunity. The article summarizes the results of a survey conducted by Rutgers University.
The main thrust of the article is that this crisis was both deep and broad enough to involve almost eighty percent of the population in one way or another. Unemployment and its awful effects were that widely felt. People’s lives were often ruined permanently. The entire trajectory of some people’s lives will be changed forever. The damage is incredible. The downdraft from Wall Street’s extraordinary greed driven stupidity caught almost all Americans and has left enormous psychological as well as material scars.
Yet we still have not dealt with the causes and have not undertaken strong remedial action.
Our elite, those people who make the key policy decisions in both the public and private sectors, and those who shape the discussion in the media and academia, are divorced from the reality that the Rutgers survey exposes.
Our elite may live in America, but it is not of America.
This leads to a profound separation.
The elite lives a life and inhabits a network that excludes the rest of us. It faces a different set of facts and so resolves its perceived difficulties in ways that are often perverse from our point of view. It was largely protected from the crisis and thus could see it more as an academic exercise rather than a raw everyday experience. It still fails to understand the erosion of opportunity that most Americans feel because its opportunities exist elsewhere. The elite shares a world with other elites. Its problems extend across borders. It sees and tackles problems with a shared set of values and ideas, not shared with us, but shared with those other elites. It cares little about the cost of education because it can afford that cost. It cares little about the cost of health care because it is well provided for. It cares little about a rotting infrastructure because it lives beyond it. It cares little about the loss of competitiveness because it is mobile and can move to the opportunity. Besides it has little national allegiance and can argue, without remorse, that adding jobs in China is still adding jobs. So what that they aren’t in the US? If only American workers were competitive. Meaning that cheap.
When American workers are that cheap the elite will, no doubt with much patriotic fanfare, repatriate those jobs. Until then it is the duty of our government to use taxpayer resources to subsidize the retention of jobs here at home.
To the elite the very word ‘home’ is an oddity. Which ‘home’?
This state of affairs is not unusual in history. It is quite usual to read the historical record and discover a nation ruled by an elite that shares little in common with the common populace. Just this week there was much fanfare over the discovery of the remains of Richard III of England. He was the last of the Plantagenet dynasty. They were a French family, most of whom spoke only French. They ruled England.
We have an an analogous elite.
Our’s speaks finance. It understands investment. It is highly bureaucratic. It is well educated and protective of its skills which are usually walled off by expensive professional requirements. It occupies the credit side of the balance sheet. Which is why it is pre-occupied with debt levels, interest rates, fears of inflation, protecting the banks, and increasing profits. It doesn’t perceive itself as being part of the ‘wage’ economy, so wages are unimportant. Nor are jobs. After all, it imagines, there are always jobs if the wages are low enough to justify hiring someone. If only workers didn’t want so much, there would always be jobs.
This isn’t the classic capitalist elite imagined by Marx. It is a newer and more diverse group created by the complexity of modern bureaucratic management and economic process. It lives in the network that links the diversity of our economy and makes its money by moving the parts around, or by providing ‘advice’ and ‘opinion’ to those that do. It is self-sustaining, self-reproducing, and almost immune to the reality it thinks it controls. It fills our leading universities with its offspring, securing that education with generous donations to the endowments that are then invested in the companies the elite manages. It directs the research agendas of those universities. It benefits from the learning produced. It buys what it can, and what it cannot buy is deemed insignificant. It sates its charitable instinct by donating heavily to the ‘arts’ that it wants to consume. And it mitigates its fear of being seen as rapacious by making bigger donations to those same arts – only this time as a tax deductible gift to the ‘public’.
All in all the elite socializes with itself in an incestuous ignorance of what lies yonder.
Until, of course, what lies yonder whacks it on the side of the head and demands attention. At which point the elite has no response or use because it has no explanation of, nor care for, what lies yonder.
And this is our problem.
No amount of whacking on the side of the head is getting us anywhere. The elite is still spewing out policy solutions that seem fine within its bubble but have no relevance outside.
It worries about debt when there is no reason to.
It worries about inflation even when there isn’t any.
It worries about profits even when they are historically high.
It protects the banks even when they mess the economy up.
It cares about immigration only to the extent it provides skilled workers.
It cares about health care only because it is an expensive benefit to provide to workers.
And it cares about workers only if they are cheap, and, well, do work that the elite needs done.
This is what we get for having an elite that lives in America, but is not of America.
Rotten policy and irrelevant policy debates about artificial crises.
We need jobs. And we need growth. Our elite is failing to deliver either.