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Tuesday, April 12, 2005


Which Direction Is Up Anway?

Keeping up with inflation was the challenge of the 1970s. As prices rose, wages increased and the middle class trod water to keep their heads dry.

When we entered our recent recession, inflation was the least of our worries - we needed jobs, increased demand for goods to spur manufacturing, a sense of security, and faith that our hard work would be eventually rewarded. As corporate downsizing and the offshore job exodus continued, we learned to work harder and longer to keep our hard won status.

The economists and political pundits trumpeted the end of the tight economy and the expansion of manufacturing, housing, tourism. Sure, the jobs never came back on the scale predicted, but there was a degree of comfort in the slowdown of layoffs and restructuring. Beneath the rhetoric of tax cuts to jump start consumer spending and a housing market running amok on historically low interest rates, the quiet increase in personal bankruptcy filings and the working class slide into poverty was dismissed as a political "sour grapes" issue that had little bearing in a country intent on reorganizing the entire world as a mirror of itself.

But if we look into our own mirror, what do we see? The income of the middle class is declining in proportion to the rise of prices. The working poor fall below the poverty line even when working two minimum wage jobs. Large corporations like Walmart hire illegal immigrants so they can work without benefits nor regulatory protections. Franchise owners of fast food chains hire non-English speaking staff because paying a living wage would cut into their quarter of a million annual profits. Unscrupulous executives manipulate the supply and price of basic power and laugh at the little guy: "Burn, baby, burn."

And yet we are amazed that the rest of the world doesn't want to be totally like us. What's wrong with these people? (Might they have a better idea?)

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