Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Middle Class State of The Union


In a sweeping bid to reassure markets (which are at 5 year highs), get the republican controlled congress on side (which it will never, ever be), and show all those enlightened people who entrusted their faith in him for a second term that he's more than just an inspiring pretty face, Barack Obama used his 12 page long state of the union address last night to pound and pound the thematic dead horse that politicos are convinced is in fact an electoral golden goose: the middle class.

The middle class.  If I hear this patronizing, meaningless, bullshit idiotic term one more time, I'm going to have to take to Lacking Credentials for a serious rant.  Oh, wait. Here I am.  Guess that was one time too many.

What possesses successful and mediocre politicians alike to so shamelessly, so blithely, and so frequently trot out this term? Why are we in 2013 witnessing the full-scale creation of a continent-wide mythology that lionizes this amorphous entity called the middle class, has us believing that there are legions of virtuous, well-meaning, salt of the earth (but obviously dumb as fucking dirt, if we listen to the speeches of those who claim to be carrying their torch) "hard-working folks" in North America, who were dominating the world and doing just fine until some vague mean and evil events which they had no do you hear me zero part in sent them for a shock and a ride from which they have never recovered.  An unwritten rule now exists then, that every North American political discourse, from the centre-left, "progressive" side of the ledger at least, must include this narrative and grab hold of it with a mission, a zeal, an evangelical conviction that middle class must be "rebuilt", that it must be "revived", that "good-paying, high value jobs" and "prosperity" must come back to North America.  Jesus Christ, you listen to these people and think we are standing in line waiting for soup before getting off our dust bowl farms and following the Joads to California.  Where is the context? Where is the perspective? Where are the facts in this middle class narrative?  And who is sitting around, thinking of themselves as middle class and complaining at the same time about how bad they have it? Is anybody really that pathetic out there? And if so, why would we be pandering to them? What should we make of politicians who do?

Answer: That they are know-nothing morons, or they sure do good jobs of playing ones on tv.  This is what one concludes from Justin Trudeau's cross-country campaigning, saying he learns in his travels that Canada's middle-class is its "backbone" and that it is "suffering".  What the hell does this guy know about being middle class, and who gave him the title of spokesman for them?

I'm just saying.  North America's political class members earn six figures for the theater work they do.  They own nice homes in nice neighbourhoods.  They receive pensions unheard of in any other professions.  Many of them are in demand, during and after politics, as authors, speakers, or highly regarded professionals in their fields.  These people know what money is.  They know what assets and educations are.  They know how the markets in North America work, how the tax system works, and they have highly qualified people managing their affairs in their best interests with respect to these systems.  Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama own very valuable properties in prime locations in very affluent areas of major North American centres.  So could they maybe dial down the "middle-class, joe six-pack" bullshit for a speech or tv?.

I used to work in collections, and although it does get tiring it is interesting work from a human psychology point of view, and unlike many hard jobs you can boil every single person you are dealing with into one of four categories: unwilling and unable to pay, willing but unable to pay, unwilling but able to pay, and able and willing to pay.  Similarly, I don't pretend that North America's social structure and institutions are perfect or that poor people are lazy and plutocrats deserve every penny, but it is simplistic and disingenuous to depict society as existing in three layers of poor, middle, and rich.  In fact all people's circumstances can be broken down in the same way as debtors receiving collection calls.

There are people who earn little and are unable to manage their affairs
There are people who earn little but are able to manage their affairs.
There are people who earn a lot but are unable to manage their affairs
There are people who earn a lot and are able to manage their affairs.

This is why I have a very big expletive problem with the vague, well-meaning, "middle-class" catch-all.  The middle class is made up of the two groups in middle, one of whom deserves to be there and one of whom we are supposed to feel sorry for when they meet the consequences of their own irresponsibility.  Instead of saving and investing the incredible wages the auto worker (or teacher, or government worker, or insert high wage earner with iron clad special interest group protection here) earned for ten, fifteen, twenty, or thirty years and becoming prosperous, we are supposed to take for granted that they should automatically be entitled to earn better wages than ever this year.  Someone who put all their money in stocks, bonds, investments and rental properties is the same as someone who owns time shares, snowmobiles, a fifty thousand dollar truck and a trailer in florida.  Someone who made terrible financial decisions deserves the attention of progressive politicians because these politicians decided they are "middle class".

Creative destruction has been crushing jobs in North America since capitalism started and yet new jobs are created every year.  No amount of politician bleating is going to save any "middle class" person who got "left behind" because of decisions they themselves made in their life as an adult.  Who is so infantile or so naive to believe anything any politician says about making their lives better? Hint: I bet you 0% of successful people in Canada waited around for Justin Trudeau to tell them they should be better off or they should have more opportunities.  I haven't seen such sickening corniness since Bob Saget's character on Full House, and at least we know now that he was just acting.

On the CBC podcast Q last week Jian Ghomeshi interviewed a hungarian translator and poet who observed that a right-wing fascist-type political movement has taken over his homeland and is propogating an anti-semitic, nationalist, return to the 1930s type of ideology.  When asked how this could happen in a modern democracy, he said they were gunning on the hope that Nazi Germany also gunned on, that if you repeat something often enough it becomes true in the collective mind.  I feel the need to speak out and say that North America risks to fall even further into complacency, mediocrity and selfish infantilism if we allow ourselves to be brainwashed by the myth of the "vanished" middle class and remember that awareness, action and personal responsibility have been the only way to achieve success here or anywhere, at anytime in history.  I don't care how many votes they represent, there is nothing admirable or noble about workaday losers who have no energy left for politics after commutes, cable, wal-mart and costco, with their zombie kids barely looking up from the ipads purchased on their parents' credit lines.  That's what the middle class is.  These people don't need inspiration to achieve the North American dream; they already have, and it's a fucking nightmare.