It is with these two images from face book stuck in my head that I read today’s USA Today and have a more cohesive picture of the Occupy Wall Street protest. 6b of the money section ran an article by Ben Jones about margarine limits. That is right margarine. Not margins. Margarine… a butter substitute. Wisconsin legislators made it illegal for restaurants to serve colored margarine tableside and prevent state prisons from serving it to inmates unless they were vegan or had health concerns. What does that matter? Special interest groups on behalf of Wisconsin dairy farmers, fearing loss of revenue to the artificial butter substitute, used the legal system to circumvent the natural capitalist process to maintain an industry. The article does not measure in dollars how this has benefited the dairy farmers over time. But it does highlight a symptom of the problem. Government and Corporations (in this case it is a unified dairy association which functions like a corporation) that undercut the capitalist process while simultaneously removing the freedom of individual choice to prevent a loss of income. How many other industries can you think of that use the congressional process to accumulate wealth regardless of deservedness meaning allowing the market to naturally dictate terms?
And by that I mean that capitalism in its purest form is the clearest albeit a simple demonstration of Survival of the Fittest. The market determines price. Demand from the market determines supply. In the case of Wisconsin’s churning debate this is not the case. Considering consumer concerns for cost and health, one could reasonably say that margarine could have killed butter sales for all but the die-hard bakers and cooks. The market was not allowed to chose for itself the fate of the dairy industry. And that is where you have frustration begin to settle in with these protestors. This sort of thing has been going on for years. And the only thing that the Artificially Fit have to say is “Survival of the Fittest Baby!” Because that is always how bullies defend themselves. But this victory for Wisconsin dairy farmers was not won on the merits of the product but by manipulating a system. It was won with layers not merit. But we all let these kinds of things slide because of the emotional impact in NOT having those laws. Anyone who would have protested making that law would have been asked what you, dear reader, are dying to ask me:
So what then? Are the farmers supposed to starve to death so you can have your fake butter?
No. The farmers are supposed to adapt like everyone else does when faced with a major change in their revenue source. The government already makes them discard their surplus and subsidizes them for losses that may or may not have happened had the market not been manipulated.
The other thing that caught my attention was a book review on page 5b of the money section. Steve Weinberg reviewed Retirement Heist by Ellen E. Schultz. In her book she takes an in-depth look at how retirement funds and pensions have been raided by CFOs at the behest of CEOs and shareholders to keep profit margins high. Her examples is General Electric. GE plundered pensions for its past employees citing a drain on operating funds due to the maintenance of generous plans. GE CEO Immelt insisted that the retirement plans were bleeding the company dry. After citing a few unmentioned facts in Mr. Immelt’s statements, Schultz informs the reader that in fact, the pension plan that way bleeding the company was the one for current upper level management positions… including Immelt. In other words, thousands of GEs employees, those responsible for doing the work that gave them the product that generated the income had their benefits taken from them so that those with the 6 figure salaries would continue to receive fabulously extravagant benefits.
This is the kind of thing that is wrong, that has angered them enough to protest. Nothing that GE did was illegal. It was unethical to be certain. GE, according to Schultz’s research, never added to the funds after 1987. So how did they steal millions of dollars legally? I don’t know. I did not read the book. But after Weinberg’s review it is clear that I am going to have to. And everyone tempted to tell the protestors to “get a job” should read the book too. A lot of people who are hard up now had jobs with good benefits. When the job was gone they had the pension to back them up and keep them in the fight. Without a pension they are down for the count.
And that brings me to some of the other things that are involved in the Occupy Wall Street protestors’ heads:
NAFTAs wholesale shipment of American jobs overseas
Tax codes that allow large corporations to hide revenue thereby protecting it from taxation
Gas prices added to the Speculation table which now rise with the whim of the market and are no longer hinged on the price of a barrel of oil.
The housing bubble
Cuts in programs while pork barrel spending appears to continue unabated
People with a PhD who HAVE to work a fast food job
That is just for starters.
Get a job? Where? How much will it pay? How long will you, young teen on the way to college, be paying your student loans before you can have enough money to live on? Sure, you could take a hard line and say that these people who have little to do but sit on the street and complain should “Man up.” We’ve all complained about Welfare and said the same thing… when we were making 500.00 a week or more. Even making 300.00 a week we had the same smug satisfaction of believing ourselves better than “those lazy bums”. And I’ll grant you there are a lot of them out there. But every single person who is not making that kind of money is simply being the cog in the machine that they are meant to be. You have to have a variety of income levels just because that is the way things work. You are not going to pay a guy with a degree who builds your airplanes 7.00 and hour and get a good plane. But you also are not going to pay a guy 25.00 and hour to mop floors in a burger joint because the job, while back breaking, is something that any Joe Schmoe could do. And that is a fast way to go broke. The larger issue here is that idea that while those of us who remember the lessons of evolutionary behavior accept Survival of the Fittest because it makes sense and we see it in nature all the time, have kind of faith that the Fit Survive on merit of real strength. Bear v. Deer, Bear wins. Cat v. Mouse. (Mouse wins unless his name is Jerry, But lets leave the cartoons out of this, shall we?) That is fair. It is reasonable. And we have faith that is how these things are working themselves out.
But that is not the case. In a matter of corporate greed those who are surviving are stealing what belongs to another, conniving by having laws rewritten to benefit themselves and intimidating anyone who challenges them. Citibank had customers arrested who tried to close accounts with them on Saturday October 15th. And just look at what trade agreements are doing to weaken us in a global market. Survival of the Ruthless and Amoral. This is what is bankrupting Europe and America. From where I am sitting the only difference between the elite in American Business and any number of mafia outfits is that the CEOs leave their oozies at home.
This is what the protesting around the world this past year has been about. Yes… you will always have some lazy people who want a hand out. But that is not who is raising a fuss. The protestors are people who want to be useful and want fair compensation for their contributions. They are people who want to live in a house with their family by choice and not by necessity. They are people who know that the champagne dreams and caviar wishes come at the cost of human lives. Really? Does anyone NEED anything gold plated in their plumbing? Who NEEDS a 1.5 million dollar gold plated license plate? Who NEEDS to own 5 homes each on the 8-10,000 square foot range? This is the protest.
Human dignity: The human need to be useful and appreciated, to be valued for ones skills and justly compensated. The ability to contribute to a community and receive appropriate care in return. To dream. To create a life. To add to others lives. To not be intimidated by any means into relinquishing his or her goods and humanity.
It is not American greed. That we are pointed to is perhaps the fault of failing to see beyond the image of Gordon Gekko’s stereotype. Corporate greed knows no race or political boundary. Greed is a human issue. Humans inhabit the upper eschelons of a corporation. Greed is a spiritual issue. I do not mean religious… spirit. Those who steal from others and amass tremendous wealth without thought to the consequences for those beneath them in the monetary food chain have poison in them. And somehow we have allowed these people to continue to function without doing anything about it.
I think of these protests as an intervention. Junkies steal, lie, cheat and manipulate to get their next fix. These megalithic corporations behave the same way. They need to be stopped. Just like in an intervention it starts with one person who is willing to say “You are hurting me and I can not allow this to happen.”
Greed is not good.
Greed has toppled regimes and entire dynasties.
Greed destroys everything in its path.
The line must be drawn. These people are drawing the line now. Before things get any worse for all of us… including those who think that having a job is any kind of security against the vagaries of the future.