Saturday, July 14, 2012

Vertical and Horizontal Economies

For most of the history of the United States there has been a vertical economy. Something like an elevator where people went up, and people went down, according to their luck, and perhaps even their hard work and determination. The people at the top were connected to the people at the bottom in such a way that if the bottom economic strata did too poorly the wealthy would feel the pinch. In other words, if the working person could not afford to buy goods and services the corporations producing those goods and services faltered as did their owners. People of modest means sometimes did become wealthy, and our history is full of examples of that. This system did not work perfectly but there was a feeling that everyone had a chance, and that we were all in this thing together. During that time character, hard work, and determination could actually make a difference. That has changed.

Today we have a stratified horizontal economy. The upper economic echelons have managed to decouple from the lower echelons to such an extent that the economic wellbeing of the top (1 -3 percent perhaps of the total population) in this flat economy is not dependent on the other. The economic well-being of the economic elite in this country has nothing to do with the economic well-being of what has been lately called the 99%. Through the mutation of the political process, as well as the mutation of economic institutions (including their structure, their regulatory environment, and other factors such as corporate globalization) we have gone through a radical process which has brought us to the Citizens United V. Federal Election Commission decision. You see, corporations are people too, and they should have the right to spend as much money as they want while all we are left with is one vote, and increasingly empty pockets. That is, when the voting machines have not been tampered with, or we have not otherwise been prevented from entering the voting booth.

In this new economy wealth is modular.  Money can be moved around, manufacturing can be moved around, and cheap pliable labor can always be found somewhere. Everything is portable – including, especially, profits. It is an amazing system, cleverly designed, and viciously propagandized. For all practical purposes the economic elite in this country can prosper even when those with less wealth suffer here or wherever operations happen to be. Under the current economic system the wealthy have no motive whatsoever to fret about those less fortunate than them.  This is even more true with the new jazzed up market based institution that often passes nowadays for Christianity that views wealth as a just reward bestowed upon those who deserve it.  Poverty is of course the just reward for those that deserve it.  As a matter of fact, it is increasingly popular to view those who are not doing so well economically as having nobody to blame but themselves. The remarkable thing about this phenomenon is that it would not work without the paradoxical support, and participation, of a middle class that lives increasingly poorer, and votes increasingly richer.

Obama isn't perfect, and he gives a lot of conflicting messages. However, he is the last man standing who is a vestige of that old vertical system where talent, chutzpah, intelligence, and hard work could make a difference. His opponent is a clueless member of the power elite who has no idea of what my life is like, and who never will. He doesn't get it, he doesn't get me, and he doesn't get my vote. Romney is not in my best interest because he lives in a strata way above me in this new flat, horizontal, economy.  He does not know the context of my life.

We are on the verge of becoming economic serfs tied to student loans, debt, and under/unemployment unless we somehow manage to defeat Romney. Romney is a symptom of a system gone terribly wrong.  If Romney is elected it will be because he waged a marketing campaign rather than an election.  If Obama is elected it will be because we the people have finally reached a limit of what we will allow money to buy.

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