The poor stay poor / The rich get rich.
That’s how it goes / Everybody knows.
— Leonard Cohen
What if I told you that the price of food you pay every day is 80 percent higher than it should be?
But what do you care? You can still get a taco for a buck almost anywhere, so what’s the big deal?
What if I uttered the magic words that Wall Street caused it?
Would that get your attention?
Regular Barbwireites have seen or heard me carp about this kind of stuff for four decades.
To deflate the ooey-gooey phony patriotism that often accompanies the annual furniture sale and fireworks nostalgiafest called Independence Day, last July 4 I ran a column headlined “Red, White and Screwed.” (Title courtesy of wiseman Lewis Black.)
I printed a checklist of the usual suspects, all of whom have their own war rooms at NevadaLabor.com: the megamillion-dollar corporate PR machine designed to keep the lower classes fighting each other; the elimination of true competition allowing corporations to charge artificially high prices for just about every consumer product or service (gasoline, electricity, natural gas, medical care, medicine, cable and satellite TV); and, as always, the cold, hard fact that the average American worker has not had a raise, adjusted for inflation, since the magical year of the Arab-Iranian-OPEC oil boycott, 1973.
Meanwhile, as our high-paying jobs were being exported to third- and fourth-world countries, the American worker’s productivity (output per person per hour) more than doubled. We are, indeed, working more and more for less and less.
It is thus not surprising that Americans of all political, religious and philosophical stripes collectively feel this vague anger. They are red in the face at being bled white of the fruits of their labors — red, white and royally screwed.
Now, corporate America is on a renewed campaign to get at the last remaining big pot of money not already under its control: the Social Security trust fund. Moonhowler senate nominee Sharron Angle is correct that the money in the fund has been diverted. The federal government has long been borrowing from itself at a lower interest rate than it could get from international bankers or the Chinese. If you don’t think our politicians quake in fear at the thought of all those senior citizen voters dis-electing those who might not want to pay it back, you’re in the wrong country. Social Security checks have never stopped coming, irrespective of internal accounting entries.
The bad guys are also looking for ways to further loot public and private pension plans, not that they haven’t done enough damage already via the deregulated speculation of recent years. We have not seen the worst of it yet.
Wall Street is going about business as usual, selling people’s futures and lives with speculation upon speculation. The odds are better in just about any Nevada casino. At least those have some degree of lapdog regulation.
The United States could be well on the way toward a double-dip depression right after the November elections. The federal government is very good at sprinkling goodies on the great unwashed before November of an even-numbered year. I’ve printed the story several times of how the Reagan administration loosened up welfare guidelines so that anyone with a middle-class income could qualify for commodity foods and food stamps. The liberalization expired on Nov. 15, 1984, right after King Ronald the Vague had been resoundingly re-elected.
Now you can add food to the above checklist of consumer ripoffs. Because of Wall Street speculation, “The worldwide price of food (rose) by 80 percent between 2005 and 2008. Unlike other food catastrophes of the past half-century or so, the United States was not insulated for this one as 49 million Americans found themselves unable to put a full meal on the table.”
So wrote Harper’s Magazine contributing editor Frederick Kaufman in his cover story in this month’s edition. (“The Food Bubble: How Wall Street starved millions and got away with it.”)
“Bankers had taken control of the world’s food, money chased money and a billion people went hungry,” he noted.
“The wheat harvest of 2008 turned out to be the most bountiful the world had ever seen, so plentiful that even as hundreds of millions slowly starved, 200 million bushels were sold for animal feed. Livestock owners could afford the wheat. Poor people could not,” Kaufman reported.
A few days ago, President Obama signed a moderate Wall Street reform bill. It’s not much, but it’s a start. As U.S. Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, said awhile back, the banks own Washington.
The only thing left is their selling our bodies as fertilizer after we die. Watch for some sharp young Harvard grad at Goldman Sachs to come up with a futures market for that, too.
So what are you going to do to get unscrewed before you die, citizen-voter?
Be well. Raise hell.
Andrew Barbano is a 41-year Nevadan and editor of NevadaLabor.com. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Tribune since 1988.