22 04 2010


I was amazed when Ronald Reagan, who I knew then only as a second-rate actor,  was elected president in 1980, and I’ve been appalled at what he and his cohort have done to the country since. I’m all the more appalled because the folks whom they’ve mainly done it TO include me, a lower-middle-class cubicle dweller.

The poor and middle class have been disproportionately affected by Republican policies over the last 30 years, as more and more of the national income and wealth has flowed upward away from them. For documentation of this, see my earlier post here:


Believe it or not, I suspected that this slow “pauperization” was happening long before the Internet came along to supply the actual statistics. The metastasizing growth of Wall-Mart and simultaneous waning of traditional department stores told me what was happening. People sliding ever downward in real income were struggling  to maintain their familiar lifestyles. To do so they had to abandon shopping at traditional department stores and consign themselves to the noise, disorder, aesthetic challenges, and under-service to be found at Wal-Mart, “the price leader.” *

Periodically during that period I tried to imagine why working people were swallowing the Reagan line — approving his effort to weaken unions, worker- and consumer-health protections, anti-trust enforcement, and the like, and cutting taxes for the most wealthy taxpayers, plus continually weakening the country’s social safety net.

I think I understand why now.

They did it because Reagan revived the founding myth of the USA.

For the generation of people who became the parents of my generation, the Depression had been a terrifying thing that lingered on in their hearts, keeping on raising questions about the wonderfulness of business and capitalism, long after the emergency that business and capitalism had created had passed. After all the suffering of the Depression and THEN of WWII, I doubt that boundless optimism was widespread among them.

But by 1979 those folks were mostly over being scared — and of course their kids, having grown up in a long period of general prosperity, had never been scared. So Reagan was able to come along and revive, even in working class hearts, that great American belief that everyone can get rich, or at least prosperous, if he just applies himself to it**.

That notion, which had had a large element of truth in it when the frontier brought us ever more virgin territory to exploit, is not lightly extirpated from the American heart***  by modern industrial and globalized reality, which drive down wages due to lack of collective bargaining, and easy exportation of jobs . It’s so HOPEFUL, and we’re an optimistic people. And it’s so CONSOLING!

As long as I believe I’m likely to be rich — or at least better off — later, I may manage never to truly notice that right now I’m working retail and taking crap every day for a few dollars an hour. And getting rid of government interference with business is going to seem like a great idea to me too, because, after all, I am surely going to be one of the interfered-with owners/managers some day, and, even if I never am, I will continue to admire the people who do get rich, and wish them well.

And of course I will hate taxes, because I know that when my inevitable richness arrives high taxes are going to steal my money!

Hence, the phenomenon, today, of the aggressively conservative pauper!

Let’s wait and see what happens when a lot of these people at or near the bottom of society, who had hoped to achieve a modest rise over their lifetimes, wake up and realize that not only are they never going to ascend any economic heights, they’re actually slipping back down the modest slopes they’ve already managed to climb.


Looks like some waking up is already going on:



* Back in the 1960s, when I grew up, people who didn’t have to count every  penny normally shopped at highly-respected department stores like Sears, Montgomery Wards, Macy’s, and Marshal Fields. Those places were busy but quiet, clean, orderly, carefully designed to appeal to the eye on every side, and full of well-made products and helpful salespersons. The Wal-Marts of that age, Woolworths, Kress, and K-mart, mostly received the custom of the poorer folk.

** That idea was first given compelling literary form in the bestselling late 19th Century stories of Horatio Alger, in all of which a penniless boy becomes, by virtue of his optimism and work ethic, a secure member of the upper middle class or beyond. But the idea was in the American air long before that. If you think about it, what would be more natural than that everyone born into a country with boundless frontier lands waiting to be exploited would assume that his personal prospects were equally boundless?

*** Nor should it be, entirely. The Horatio Alger story is not a “myth” in the sense of a lie, but rather in the anthropological sense of an idealized story known by everyone in a culture, and which serves to explain the world and give meaning to their lives. People can certainly sometimes still “make it” in the USA. Recently I received a narrative of the life of a fellow member of my high school class of ’66. He had ended up doing very well, and it was inspiring to read about the twists and turns of events that he had navigated adroitly for 44 years to to reach his affluent current state. (You know who you are, Bobby!)

But not everyone is fitted to be or wants to be an “entrepreneur”. The big organization in which I work has several thousand employees.  They are not paid well, and most of their work is tedious paper-pushing. I suspect they stay because they are people, like the vast majority of every American generation before them, who just want a job where they can make a decent living and then go home and play with their kids. Back in my youth this was a thoroughly respectable aspiration, and millions of such people could achieve it through high-paying factory jobs. Why in fact there were so many people with such jobs back then that I must have seen a million beer commercials on TV that were directed just at them: A bunch of guys are standing around in a bar after getting off work. They are slugging back beers at a great rate while laughing and carrying on and obviously having lots of fun. All is right in their world.

I never thought as I watched those dumb ads that one day I’d be nostalgic for the world they reflected.



16 03 2010

This quote is so true it’s breathtaking:

“For money you can have everything it is said. No, that is not true. You can buy food, but not appetite; medicine, but not health; soft beds, but not sleep; knowledge but not intelligence; glitter, but not comfort; fun, but not pleasure; acquaintances, but not friendship; servants, but not faithfulness; grey hair, but not honor; quiet days, but not peace. The shell of all things you can get for money. But not the kernel. That cannot be had for money.”

-Arne Garborg, writer (1851-1924)

I must add, though, that for the the terminally socially inept (moi!), the grotesquely ugly, and those who perhaps have never had good health, the things money can buy, though all very much “second bests”, may be the very best of that kind of thing that they can ever hope to obtain.

And don’t forget also the cheering effect of living in beautiful surroundings (which money can buy) vs. the depressing effect of living in impoverished squalor (which I vividly remember from my childhood).

Finally, don’t forget the SECURITY that wealth brings. Of all the many things that the world can do to you, if you are wealthy it at least cannot inflict squalor, grinding labor, and/or homelessness on you.


26 07 2009



25 05 2009

I used to spend thousands of dollars a year collecting things on eBay. No more! Here’s why, in a post I made yesterday to that awful place’s awful blog where they tell us what awful things they’re going to do to sellers next:

“As a long-time buyer on eBay I was recently drawn back briefly for a class of things likely to be here. They were. I’ve got them and gone.

Unfortunately, I stopped to take a look at the eBay-as-a-business sites. Wish I hadn’t!

EBay is a place I learned to love 8 years ago because it transparently transmitted the offerings of ACTUAL HUMANS to me, allowing me to buy neat things I loved from such persons. How I loved recreating the person-to-person retail model of a generation ago, using up-to-the minute technology!

Best of all, I was bypassing the immense faceless corporations that over that same generation have turned brick-and-mortar retail into an exercise in encountering sullenness, because the workers there are now mostly paid minimum wage or near it.

No more! EBay is now just another huge faceless corporation full of eager management bees blathering about “metrics” and “enhancing the buyer experience” ad nauseum, and then turning back happily to their real job of screwing* small sellers.

It turns my stomach. I’m outa here!”


*I am going to tell you what that screwing consists in. Not now. In a later post. I swear to God. I’m too mad now.


11 02 2009

Recently I was talking to a friend who was lambasting General Motors workers for getting such high salaries. Once again, I felt that old, familiar amazement that someone in the working class could be furious at someone ELSE in the working class for managing to be slightly better off than they.

“Hey!” I always feel like saying when this happens, “You’re furious at people who earn maybe 4-5 times what you do, and for doing boring, dirty jobs at that. How come you’re not mad at those in our country who earn actually, MILLIONS of times more than you do?”

I asked, and she couldn’t explain. I cogitated on this phenomenon for a while and realized that, the influence of belief in “the American Dream” myth” aside, working people in the USA simply don’t get to see how the other 1/10 of 1 % live.

I remember reading many years ago that after the stock market crash of 1929 the society pages of major papers changed. Before that they had delighted in showing the lifestyles of the True Rich among us — Duponts, Vanderbilts, etc. — and the True Rich had in turn delighted in being shown.

Then the T. R. realized their way of life might incite envy, even proto-revolutionary envy, among the standers in bread lines, so they arranged not to be seen. Today what we are shown by way of wealthy life is the life of Hollywood celebrities, who are not the True Rich by any stretch of the imagination.

So, just to give my friend and maybe others a view of how the modern T. R.s are doing these days, here’s an informative site. Look at the “houses” part.


And here’s a YouTube video that focuses on the estates of the classic True Rich:


(Ignore the junk about the “Illuminati”)

And here, by contrast, is someone at the other end of the scale, in her spacious home:


I can hear you saying now, “You unAmerican socialist, those rich people EARNED their wealth!”

Did they all do that, ya think? What percentage of them merely inherited it? What percentage of them got it through luck — i.e., their land turned out to be sitting on top of a fortune in oil, etc.? How many of them got it through inheritance plus bullshit financial machinations such as have gotten the whole country in such trouble recently?

My only point is this: When it comes to really understanding the vast disparities of wealth that the American economy produces and allows, there are none so blind as those who will look at the evidence, but will not see.


17 01 2009


This song, Misty Blue, by Dorothy Moore is a natural companion to I’d Rather Go Blind, which I previously mentioned…

Little trickles, via sensitive women singers, out of the great, deep Well of Human Sorrow.

These songs and songs like them give the lie to the bustling ones — the dictators, conquerors, obsessive practitioners of greed, empire builders, nascent entrepreneurs, puffed-up defenders of “freedom” — to the Stalins, Putins, Bushes, Saddams, Nixons, William Gates’s, and to the new generation of murderous third-world pigs striving to found dynasties in Africa,  etc., etc.,

–to all those who through endless generations have afflicted the rest of us and always will–

because gnawing at the back of their minds is always the unbelievable truth that the Conquerer Worm will soon have them, great as they know themselves to be, and will have them as irredeemably and completely as the least of the rest of humanity whose lives they use and make miserable in an effort to blot out that one universal fact.

See also
by Percy Bysshe Shelley:


2 08 2008

I come from a poor family, so much of the doings of the business world are a mystery to me–high finance especially. You too? Maybe your background, or even just a lack of time, leaves you painfully aware that you just don’t know the score on this.

For me the doings of financiers or even just modest stock investors continued to be a completely closed book until I came into a little money in the 1980s. Something had to be done with it, and so I at last became unable to bear my vast ignorance in the economic area any more.

I studied basic economics on my own for a year (having not taken any courses on it in college), invested my little windfall in the stock market, and went on to study investing regularly for another two years. I read several books on the subject, and followed the markets religiously for two years via Barron’s and other publications.

I became proud of my increasing financial sophistication.

Then one day (It happened to be the day after the famous “Black Monday” of October 19, 1987, when the Dow Jones Industrials plunged 508 points in a single day.) I woke up to the sound of a lot of my gelt clanking as it walked out the door.

“My poor friend”, I said, after I’d mourned my dollars’ departure, “you’re like a pygmy trying to learn auto mechanics. Daddy never told stories about wheeling and dealing at the dinner table, nor mommy either. You lack the gift our parents give us as babes when they routinely model being successful at something for us. Pack it in buddy!”

So I did, until now.

Now I’ve found a website where someone brought up rich, or close to it, and who worked as a financier over the last two decades, tells her story. There’s lots to learn from Mrs. Catherine Austin Fitts, here:

Dillon, Read and Company Inc. and the Aristocracy of Stock Profits

I wonder if you’ll find her world as strange and intriguing as I did.