One of the hardest things that I have had to learn about living in the United States is the relationship between the haves and the have-nots. My definition of being wealthy is having enough capital to either a) do nothing productive or b) do something productive on strictly your terms. Everybody else is a working stiff one way or the other. And if you think begging isn't work, maybe you should try, experimentally, before you have to take up that trade in earnest. One way the people in charge keep us consumers in our place is by directing our anger at the shiftless layabouts who do nothing all day, or better yet who live in jail with free meals and television. I always say it's easy enough to join their ranks if you really do think that's a desireable lifestyle. It's much harder to join the ranks of the banksters and political lobbyists and their exclusive lifestyles. And no it is going to get much, much harder to stay in place never mind climb economic ladders.
And yet us working stiffs in the US are never supposed to even feel envy for the lifestyles of the rich and famous. The proper attitude is respect that they made it, tinged with a little bit of guilt that we shiftless masses haven't taken sufficient advantage of our opportunities in this limitless land to join them. The fault lies not with them but in us. If we really wanted to, our leaders tell us, we too could become multimillionaires in business, politics and the arts. When people harangue me on this subject, because apparently my views are radical, I point out that Bill Gates would never have achieved his absolute wealth, had he been building Microsoft in say, Latvia. What has given him untold wealth is we, the US consumers. He produced a product, advertised it, and we, worried about our shiftless image, we the hundreds of millions of US consumers buy it and he makes a personal fortune larger than many nation's annual budgets. But without us consumers there would have been none of that. Don't believe me? Wait and see because now we consumers are no longer spending wildly for two reasons. We've either lost everything or are terrified of being the next pawn to drop off the bottom rung of the ladder of insecurity. Even Microsoft can't make money if we don't buy. And if we don't buy the shiftless leaders of our economy not only get to keep their fortunes, they get to add to them even as one quarter of children in the US live in foodstamps.
That is to me the reason why we have an unspoken social contract in modern civilization, very similar to the feudal relationship between serfs and their lords. We help them make money but they help us to live decent, if undemanding, lives. Most of us after all don't really want that much, a decent job, a home, a family a modest sense of purpose, and now, while our leaders savage our economy to death in front of our very eyes, they still expect us to be grateful. And weirdly enough we lower our eyes from the unsavory spectacle and meet their basest expectations. At least we aren't Haitians, who eat mud pies and are to blame for their own misery for "disrespecting" God, according to Evangelical Christians who speak out on the subject of the recent earthquake.
I wonder how long we will have to decline into being "used-to-haves" before we put the brakes on the wholesale looting of the US economy? How can we? I read that we are going to spend, in official numbers, 103 billion dollars killing Afghans in 2010. I cannot help but ask myself if the charitable thing would not be to pledge that amount to oil-free Haiti to rebuild. Of course not, we are engaged in a life or death struggle to own cheap oil and that is what we will do, no matter how many Americans die to achieve that goal in Iraq, in Yemen, in Oman, and God help us all, in Iran. Because without cheap oil we are doomed to a slow unravelling of the consumer economy, and we shall return to our former status as people, instead of consumers, and that won't do at all.
Turn up the volume on the TV.