The Angry Future Expat

Of Bread, Circuses, Secretaries, And Other Distractions

Posted in banksters, debt by angryfutureexpat on May 14, 2010

One of the enduring mysteries of the economic meltdown – at least to me – is not only how sanguine our political and financial elites are, but also how subdued the people suffering from long-term unemployment are. It wasn’t always thus.  Over at The Big Picture, Barry Ritholtz posted some articles discussing a riot in Iowa back in the 1930s.  My favorite snippet:

The abduction followed Judge Bradley’s refusal to swear he would sign no more mortgage foreclosures.  The farmers had entered his court room to discuss with him hearings which are to determine the constitutionality of two new laws relating to mortgage foreclosures.

The judge requested them to take off their hats, and to stop smoking cigarettes.

So the farmers grabbed, him, beat him up, and put a rope around his neck.  Awesome.  But that’s just the tip of the iceberg, from the arrival of the “Bonus Army” to various other hunger marches and riots, people just didn’t take the Great Depression lying down.

There are a number of reasons we haven’t responded by taking to the streets this time: 1) the fact that the war on drugs has already incarcerated huge numbers of our rowdiest citizens, 2) unemployment insurance, which is just enough to keep people in their apartments, watching cable, surfing porn, and playing Wii; and 3)the unemployment rate among the well-educated is still low (through underemployment is high).

Perversely, the cushions that have been put in place, are causing our downward mobility to feel less sudden, and more grinding – well, not mine, which was sudden – but long-term downward mobility warps perspectives and misdirects anger.  People should be pissed off at Wall Street – and they still are – but as far as I can tell, brick 1 has not been thrown through a plate-glass window of any of the Wall Street banks.

Much more common is the attitude of Cynthia Norton, a former secretary from Jacksonville profiled in the New York Times:

Ms. Norton has sent out hundreds of résumés without luck. Twice, the openings she interviewed for were eliminated by employers who decided, upon further reflection, that redistributing administrative tasks among existing employees made more sense than replacing the outgoing secretary.

One employer decided this shortly after Ms. Norton had already started showing up for work.

Ms. Norton is reluctant to believe that her three decades of experience and her typing talents, up to 120 words a minute, are now obsolete. So she looks for other explanations.

Employers, she thinks, fear she will be disloyal and jump ship for a higher-paying job as soon as one comes along.

Sometimes she blames the bad economy in Jacksonville. Sometimes she sees age discrimination. Sometimes she thinks the problem is that she has not been able to afford a haircut in a while. Or perhaps the paper her résumé is printed on is not nice enough.

Misdirected blame toward herself, and more ominously:

Ms. Norton says she cannot find any government programs to help her strengthen the “thin bootstraps” she intends to pull herself up by. Because of the Wal-Mart job, she has been ineligible for unemployment benefits, and she says she made too much money to qualify for food stamps or Medicaid last year.

“If you’re not a minority, or not handicapped, or not a young parent, or not a veteran, or not in some other certain category, your hope of finding help and any hope of finding work out there is basically nil,” Ms. Norton says. “I know. I’ve looked.”

The article really isn’t that good, and comes across as a preachy screed from the elites to the poor, but Ms. Norton’s an example of how grinding downward mobility warps your perspective, and impairs your judgment.  Believe it or not, Ms. Norton’s story actually gets worse:

Ms. Norton, for her part, may be reluctant to acknowledge that many of her traditional administrative assistant skills are obsolete, but she has tried to retrain — or as she puts it, adapt her existing skills — to a new career in the expanding health care industry.

Even that has proved difficult.

She attended an eight-month course last year, on a $17,000 student loan, to obtain certification as a medical assistant. She was trained to do front-office work, like billing, as well as back-office work, like giving injections and drawing blood.

The school that trained her, though, neglected to inform her that local employers require at least a year’s worth of experience — generally done through volunteering at a clinic — before hiring someone for a paid job in the field.

Uh, yeah, the school “neglected” to inform her.  I suspect the school actively misled her about her job prospects, but when you’re desperate anything that could provide a leg up sounds desirable, and it’s difficult to ask the tough, probing questions in such circumstances.

Look, this lady should be furious, but not at the minorities, young parents, handicapped, and veterans that she perceives (mostly incorrectly) have at least some government support.   Her anger has been misdirected away from the elites who caused her problem in the first instance – she should be bitching about Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein, and Larry Summers – yet they earn nary a mention.

Instead, the grind of downward mobility had warped her perspective, severely impacted her judgment (17k for medical assisting, really?), and has misdirected awareness away from the true causes of her hardship: Wall Street, the incestuous relationship between the banks and government, the lack of an adequate social safety net, the (no doubt) for-profit school that hung 17k in non-discharageable debt around her neck for a worthless “certificate.”

Ironically, the best thing about the Great Depression in the U.S. was that is was quick, severe, and widespread enough that it gave rise in short order to the New Deal.  What we’re going through now is much more like death by slow puncture, and with every passing month the elites are counting on us forgetting what happened, and who’s to blame – and it may be working.

5 Responses

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  1. missdisplaced said, on May 14, 2010 at 8:14 am

    “Her anger has been misdirected away from the elites who caused her problem in the first instance – she should be bitching about Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein, and Larry Summers – yet they earn nary a mention.”

    Yes, and this is EXACTLY what Corporate America wants! Misdirect the anger toward the current administration that is trying to reform Wall Street. This misdirecting of the anger from the real culprits is exactly what gave rise to Nazi Germany in 1930.

    • angryfutureexpat said, on May 14, 2010 at 9:56 am

      Well said. One of the essential ingredients in an authoritarian takeover is long-term downward mobility among the population. The authoritarians are usually the tools of the elites (e.g. Mussolini, and Hitler), or they install a new group of elites (e.g. Bolsheviks, Mao). It was that quote about minorities, handicapped, etc., that made me write the post. I don’t know anything about this woman, but she’s taking the first step down an ugly path, and because of the depth of our economic problems (even during the good times, median wages didn’t keep up with inflation!) the possibility is real that we could end up in a really bad place.

      A small-d democratic revolution, even with some guillotines in the streets is fine with me, and likely necessary to break the stranglehold of the banking oligarchs on the government. But, what is useful, healthy, and perhaps necessary, is not Burundi, Nazism, or Maoism.

    • Mark F. said, on May 16, 2010 at 3:48 am

      Boy, you are naive to think this administration is going to reform Wall Street. Haha. That’s a good one. Always dem EVIL Republicans preventing those good Democrats from doing God’s work.

      Here’s news for you dumb “progressives” : they are in bed with each other. Shocking, I know.

  2. Nando said, on May 14, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Divide and conquer – that is the creed of the top one percent. This is how they have been able to hold and maintain power throughout millenia. You don’t have a job, despite your hard work, experience, expertise – blame the welfare mothers. Get mad at undocumented workers. While it is definitely true that undocumented workers drive down the wage structure for the rest of us, Corporate America – as well as mid-sized companies and small businesses – LOVE to hire illegal immigrants. They always have – hell, just look at the waves of immigration. Poor people and desperate souls BUILT this country. (They reaped few of the rewards, other than the chance to eat.)

    Also, I attended graduate school in Iowa. I am roughly familiar with the Progressive and Socialist movements in this country, in the late 1800s and early 20th century. BTW, those Iowa farmers should have smashed that bastard’s, i.e. “Judge” Charles C. Bradley’s, head with a pool cue and a hammer. We all know that judges are bagmen (and bag-women) for Big Industry in this country. They have always played this nefarious role. They reach their conclusion first – usually before any arguments have been made – and then have their clerks find something to support their decision. This then gives “legitimacy” to the fleecing of the average man, woman and child in this country – at the hands of industry.

  3. unperson said, on May 15, 2010 at 2:37 am

    as for why there has been less outrage towards the elite over this recession, I think some of it has to do with the fact that only some people are affected by this recession. I have friends who are totally unaffected.

    Also, to understand why we do not react as we used to towards elite malfeasance, a lot of it has to do with cultural conditioning via media and education. We Americans today are far far more “educated” and thus more exposed to elite-friendly ideas than were americans in the depression who stood up for themsevles.

    To understand this you have to understand homo sapiens. Drs Somit and peterson’s book DOMINANCE DEMOCRACY AND DARWINISM gives some insight into this problem. Homo sapiens evolved and survived because they were able to use their big brains to implement complex plans and strategies that no other animal could. it is our unique survival advantage. But in order to work together to implement complex plans to survive half a million years ago or whatever, we had to all be able to get on the same page quickly.

    This meant that homo sapiens is a biological machine for ingesting, internalizing and passing on ideas. We are idea internalization and transmission machines. That is how we were able to survive hundreds of thousands of years ago. And we still are that now, essentially.
    So what has happened is that in this american environment where we attend school for all of our formative years and are exposed continually to mass media that is owned and operated by those at the top of society, is that we homo sapiens americanus are creatures that are controlled by a culture that is evolved by the elite to suit the elite. We are like cattle because as far as homo sapiens is concerned culture is like another internal organ. Culture is so central to homo sapiens that it is like an organ.

    And the american culture and the american citizen is to a large extent a creature saturated by ideas that favor the elite.

    Now, those farmers that roughed up that judge–they were not nearly as educated as we are, and their educated was simple and not nearly as integrated into the fabric of larger america. And they were not inundated and saturated by mass media transmitted ideology.

    They were relatively undomesticated. We are domesticated. We are cattle.

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