Monday, November 28, 2011

How Corporations Became Persons and People Became Garbage

I finally got around to reading an article in the New York Times. It was about how the people with money and corporations with money are keeping this money "in the family." Paying themselves and their near and dear. It's not circulating, it's not building, it's not being productively invested, it isn't putting people back to work. During the Great Depression this narrow holding of money, whether it was in a farmer's mattress or a safe deposit box, was called "hoarding" and people who did it were classed as Scrooges or worse.

Today's hoarders of great wealth look a lot more handsome in their tennis outfits or on the town. They photograph well. The television programs about rich people make us admire them, while the programs about regular people usually make them the butt of the joke. Wealth self-advertises and self-justifies. Money = Moral; that's the gist of the Prosperity Gospel, the fastest growing religion in America. Still, however attractive these people are, this hoarding of cash, concentrating the wealth and power in fewer hands, happens at a cost. It benefits few to impoverish many. Big always wins, small always loses. (Picture a large man taking a smaller man and shaking him upside down to get the last bit of cash out of his pockets.) I'll give you a moment to decide which category you fall under.

Here's the New York Times article that got me thinking today.

During a downturn, those with money always buy shares from those with less. They offer very little. Those with too little money have to cash out their holdings at a loss, just to make ends meet and rich people aren't in a hurry. It's a buyer's market. At the top of the business cycle the ones with money (and inside information) are the ones selling. Buy low, sell high.

Human beings are bought and sold the same way. Those with money in hand are in the catbird seat when workers are desperate for jobs. They can hire cheap, they can buy their supplies cheap, pay vendors a discount price...or they can wait and let the desperation deepen into a lower wage scale, wait for the price to go down. (They can afford to be patient, and are happy to remind themselves that "patience is a virtue". A virtue that they avoid practicing with those who owe them money.)

In a recession money is worth more and people are worth less. Humanity is degraded in measurable ways. To think this way people with money step out of their human role, forget they are human beings for the moment, and assume their alternate role: they try to think how their money would think, how their corporation would think, and they persuade themselves that this is more "prudent" more "responsible", more "high-minded", when it's just more cold-blooded and inhumane.

Right now the teachers and plumbers and mechanics and students and nurses protesting on Wall Street are being dehumanized and beaten and pepper-sprayed, while the champagne class in the towers and the comfortable classes in their suburbs are invisible and protected, their names hidden behind the corporations who are allowed to stand in for them. People of all classes and all ages and backgrounds, as soon as they have a grievance, are called "dirty", "longhaired", "lazy", "garbage", "violent", "depraved", "perverted", "smelly" by the well-dressed pundits on FoxNews. Corporations have a well-paid apparatus to shape public opinion, and cable news has everyone's attention 24 hours of every day, so the public is being instructed how to think.

The Daily Show does a much better job of putting the pushback into context, and it's funny.

The terms of all transactions are dictated by the more powerful party, and they get to tell everyone what to think of the transaction. Now, thanks to the Supreme Court appointees of Reagan and two Bushes, corporations are people and money is speech. Meanwhile ordinary people are not people, are garbage to be thrown away, especially if they don't have a job, and lack of money becomes a handy measure of human worthlessness. It's a strange distortion of how our forebears thought. Adam Smith, Lincoln, TR, the Founding Fathers and the Sermon on the Mount turned upside down and inside out by the best public relations money can buy.


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