Charity and Philanthropy: Lagging Indicators in Our Freak Enterprise System

Last year my first column welcoming 2010 dealt with economic matters… and this year, I must repeat myself.  I stated in that January 16 column that a few tears would be shed on the catastrophe which had befallen Haiti, but that Americans’ great concern was the dismal state of the economy, and that little else mattered to them.  Well, nothing has changed… in either Haiti or the United States.  What I said then in my column, I am forced to repeat today… that this nation is in dire need of economic enlightenment and not just another push into an artificial economic recovery, another bubble to later burst.

In that column I questioned Obama’s wisdom in choosing two former presidents to lead the charge in helping Haiti deal with its problems and get back on its feet.  The two men put “in charge” were none other than George W. Bush, considered a war criminal in the eyes of much of the world, and consummate creator of catastrophes – does anyone recall his handling of the Katrina disaster?  And the other figurehead, Bill Clinton, the individual most culpable for America’s labor holocaust – does anyone recall NAFTA and Perot’s prophetic vision on jobs? True, there were 35 million jobs created, mostly of the penny-ante variety, during Clinton’s two terms in office –  putting more family members to work at minimum wage, no-skill jobs – but there were 10 million dollar-size, skilled jobs lost, together with infrastructure devastation in countless longstanding middle-class industrial communities – has anyone been to Camden, New Jersey, lately? That’s capitalism’s gift of defecation after its gluttony rounds of helter-skelter globalization!

Throughout 2010 the mainstream media parroted what politicians of the two-flavor variety, business and other apostles of our freak enterprise system wanted us to believe: that the recession has long ago been over, June 2009 they say; that the economy is on the mend, never mind the ever-increasing numbers of unemployed, under 10 percent they claim, or underemployed; or the unacknowledged and unreported ballooning in the ranks of the poor.

And we are starting 2011 much the same way, with our president foam-lying at the mouth, yet with a straight face, telling the country that things are getting better (“clear trend of improving economy”), while at the same time reestablishing himself as a friend of business via his latest appointments: Gene Sperling, another architect/draftsman in that Clinton economic corps which beheaded labor – now replacing Larry Summers; and, of course, Bill Daley, of that Chicago noble family, a J. P. Morgan banker just two days ago, now sworn in as Obama’s eyes and ears, his top consigliere… his Chief of Staff.  When the US Chamber of Commerce applauded such choice on January 6, we were assured that labor, and the country as a whole, is in for even rougher times.

Clear trend of improving economy, says Obama?  In no way, shape or form!  At best, it’s wishful thinking; and, at worst, a way to keep Americans handcuffed to deceptive hope.  Misappropriated statistical data is being consistently used to misrepresent the true figures in poverty and unemployment.  [Preliminary figures from the census just made available this week indicate the number of people in poverty is understated by millions.] The financial markets’ doing well in the very short term does not certify an improving economy, the rationale of the Wall Street bulls being: don’t look at the 10 percent of people unemployed but at the 90 percent who are employed.

That’s corrosive economic thinking of the worst possible kind.  First of all, combined unemployment and underemployment could be as high as 20 percent of the “productive population”… but, and this is the key element to consider, there is a potential additional 10-15 percent unemployment and underemployment waiting in the wings as states, municipalities, and public schools shrink their staffs to meet the new smaller budgets… and, of course, the multiplier effect that it will have on other service industries which those positions now support.

Many of us have waited for our nation to stop being the world’s policeman (or bully, as many see it)) and bring our troops home, and slicing the defense budget by one-third or more.  But that would imply adding as much as 10 percent to the unemployment rolls by the time we include not just the people in uniform but all civilian jobs that depend, directly or indirectly, on our machina belli.  Is it any wonder that Obama, or anyone else occupying the White House, needs to keep the flames of war alive, be it in Afghanistan, the Middle East or anywhere else that suits the Pentagon?  War and economics are so enmeshed in this nation that change won’t come until there is an enlightened American population, something difficult to foresee. 

Until that happens, we in the US must abide by the rules of a capitalist, freak enterprise system where labor is a cheap commodity and capital runs the show… and not the free enterprise system we admired and held with pride in past generations.  And we’ll have to put up with the government and the corporate media telling us that our economy is finally on the mend, trying to maintain the capitalist house of cards intact, and the “consumer sentiment,” our most revered leading economic indicator, artificially high.

But, at the edge of this economic precipice, we are starting to see more and more signs of charity and philanthropy… lagging economic indicators which tell us the obvious: that the economy is in intensive care… in need of major surgery and, very definitely, political organ replacement.