Saturday, March 8, 2014

What's Good For General Motors is Good for America

It turns out the quote, "What's Good For General Motors is Good for America", wasn't really a quote, or at least it was one that was taken out of context, according to wikipedia HERE.

But, I believe an argument can be made that it's message has been ingrained as truth in the American psyche for many years, and continues to this day.

Certain professions, most elected officials, economic developers, etc., are rewarded when the front page of the paper says a company is coming to town and going to hire workers.  Companies are some folks primary customers and the customer is always right. Thus, they give tax breaks, pay for worker training, get zoning changed, whatever they can do for that company.  The more jobs created the better, everyone needs a job, and companies create jobs is the logic.

As a culture we've measure our success by a similar logic...how's the "economy" doing on the nightly news, often means how are the stock prices of companies doing.  Oddly, when companies trim the labor force to save money, very often their stock prices go up.

Ultimately, the mindset we've adopted is that companies "take care" of places.  It's clearly the Reagan mantra of "trickle-down" economics.  If we take care of companies, and rich people, they will take care of us.  Places then build their strategies around catering to companies and rich people, successful places have the right mix of high-end shops, art, walkable streets, good grocery stores, and people willing to work hard to make companies money, because if companies are successful they will take care of us, their wealth will trickle down.

Our culture has embraced this mindset since at least the early 80's.  While we smile and laugh-off the infamous movie line "greed is good" as part of a bygone era, we spend most of our time watching rich people lead their lives on television, and imagining our lives if we were rich, rather than leading our own lives, much less working to improve the lives of those around us. We don't see poor people as assets, because we don't believe they can ever "trickle" down to benefit us.  As Robert Reich has pointed out -

"Regressives sincerely believe the rich will work harder if they have even more, and the poor will work harder if they have even less. I debated a conservative economist yesterday who said unemployment insurance reduced the incentive of the unemployed to look for jobs (even now when three people are out of work for every job that's available) and that the House Republican budget cuts in programs for the poor would motivate them to get out of poverty. But he was equally adamant that the wealthy would work harder if their taxes were reduced, and that even the rather small tax increase enacted in January on the very rich would reduce their motivation."
It's not just regressives, it's part of our culture.  Take care of the rich and they'll take care of us, the poor are a liability and we must encourage them to work for companies at low wages, because then the company benefits and that will trickle down to the rest of us.  It's how we end up with a Federal budget where the vast majority of our collected, pooled funds meant to benefit the country, ends back up in the hands of corporations.  How much of the defense budget ends up with defense contractors?  How many ways do we tell WalMart or GE they don't have to contribute their share in our pooled funds, and then we take the pooled funds we do have and build them new water and sewer lines, or pave their parking lots or train their workforce?  Yet, all of the fights about the federal budget are about how much less to give the people with less.  And all the blame for our problems is thrust on poor people, who have no voice or advocate, at least not voices with power.

In 1881 there was an editorial by the newspaper in Tupelo, MS that said this:
 "Every man owes a duty to the town in which he resides, to advance its prosperity and to make it the abode of kindly sentiments and brotherly and neighborly feelings."..."It's a shame for a man to use his community as a shepherd uses his sheep, merely to shear the wool. That man is a disgrace to the 19th Century whose every act is regulated by the thought, 'Can I better myself at the expense of the community to which I belong?'"
Now we admire the pawnbrokers, the loan sharks, the hucksters, slumlords, and the pickle-vendors.  We've lost any sense of community, or brotherly and neighborly feelings.  We're convinced that the wealth of these same people who ask each day if they better themselves at the expense of their community,  will trickle-down to the rest of the community.