Spotlight

. . , now the rich hold all the aces up their sleeve. This is why the issue of intellectual property rights has acquired such a huge importance today: Rich countries want to make sure they get money for their inventions. Poor countries see it as just another obstacle to their development. To appreciate the irony of it, note that Disney Productions loudly demands protection against “piracy” of their DVDs while some of their most successful films are based on stories created precisely in the countries about whose “piracy” Disney complains. But the intellectual property rights for One Thousand and One Nights have long since expired (or rather never existed), while Disney’s rights are very much alive.

How does one claim rights to something one never created?

The real median wage in the United States has been stagnant for twenty-five years, despite an almost doubling of the GDP per capita. About one-half of all real income gains between 1976 and 2006 accrued to the richest 5 percent of households. The new “Gilded Age” was understandably not very popular among the middle class who saw their purchasing power not budge for years. . . A way to make it seem that the middle class was earning more than it did was to increase its purchasing power through broader and more accessible credit. People began to live by accumulating ever-rising debts on their credit cards, taking on more car debts or higher mortgages. . . Thus was born the great American consumption binge that saw the household debt increase from 48 percent of GDP in the early 1980s to 100 percent of GDP before the crisis [of 2008].

Branko Milanovic gives us a good dose of reality in his book The Haves and the Have-Nots, more than most want to come to terms with. It’s more of the same warnings we’ve been hearing for years, but still haven’t learned the lessons. Debt props up the growth economy. It’s a false growth. The other irony of this is that the rich, who invested in the debt products that bolstered the boom, were actually betting on (they call it “investing in”) bad debt. Then they were bailed out by taxpayers, and then they blamed the consumer for taking on more debt than he/she can handle. Please, Wall Street, make up your mind, do you want consumers to be responsible or do you want them to go into debt to make you rich? Oh, wait a minute, irresponsible consumers rely on irresponsible lenders. This is not a “chicken or the egg” conundrum, it starts with irresponsible bankers knowingly lending to consumers incapable of making the payments.

It’s no coincidence that the peak of public education’s success, and the peak of the peace movement, and the peak of income equality coincided in the late ‘60s-early ‘70s. It’s no coincidence that since then public schools have been gutted, that the income gap has widened to pre-depression levels, that attitudes towards war and patriotism have rebounded. Unlike the past though, there’s a big difference in how the new inequality survives. There are new means to keep the masses quiescent—hundreds of TV channels and thousands of vacuous videos, games, and websites to keep people distracted from the slow sapping of their power that’s happening right in front of their eyes. Distract the people with war and trivia. This keeps them voting against their own best interest, and keeps the asset spread widening without inciting revolt. Keep ’em fat ‘n’ happy ‘n’ stupid.

If you’re looking, if you’re paying attention, there are voices of reason to be heard. Here are words to express what happens when the economy crashes. Its a video, a history lesson, a pile of basic economic principles we need to understand. Be sure to watch to the whole program. He will undoubtedly say something to piss you off, but his message must be taken in its entirety. Bits and pieces, out of context, will inevitably cause misunderstanding. Richard Wolff is telling us the facts we may not wish to acknowledge. It’s a story the press won’t tell us. It’s a subject the media giants won’t give 30 seconds of airtime to cover. This failure is not by accident. Why? Richard knows why, and he opens his big mouth to let you know why, too. And it’s time people open their big ears to listen. Here’s what happens when the [. . . Hits the Fan].

The Haves and the Have-Nots, Branko Milanovic, Basic Books, 2011

Capitalism Hits the Fan, Richard Wolff, Olive Branch Press, 2009

[Gini Index]

With all this to chew on, I’m taking a break. Happy New Year. . .

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