Tomgram: Ann Jones, Our Veblen Moment
It follows that the institution of a leisure class acts to make the lower classes conservative by withdrawing from them as much as it may of the means of sustenance and so reducing their consumption, and consequently their available energy, to such a point as to make them incapable of the effort required for the learning and adoption of new habits of thought. The accumulation of wealth at the upper end of the pecuniary scale implies privation at the lower end of the scale.”
Remember this ratio — 567 to one . . . 567 to one. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Also think about how many sycophants and bootlickers are mired in the mess that is the MM or MMM or MMMM: Mass Media, the Massively Mauling Media, or the Masterful Meaningless Media, or, well — Masochistic Mentally Minor Media/ Marauding Mentally Minor Media.
IT is incessant, the number and breadth of the stories that are meaningless or drawn from the blood and soul of us, the 80 percent. In no way shape or form does the Mass Media care about the realities of us flagging, flailing, failing, floundering foot soldiers for Capitalism.
The real crimes occur daily — incessantly and recklessly but with the madness in the method and the method being the madness of the One Percent and their prostitutes. This isn’t outrage? We take this over and over, until this entire society — 280 million of us out of the 344 million Americans — is spiritually pummeled and colonized with fear and Stockholm Syndrome: relating to the masters of the madness that keeps the worker down like a dog in the gutter.
Another set of numbers: 8 million, $35,308, $1.2 billion.
Eight million. That’s how many U.S. middle-class workers will be left without strong overtime pay protections under the Trump administration’s weak overtime rule proposed on March 22.
In human terms, that means 8 million working people across the 50 states can be made to work up to 50, 60 or even 70 hours a week, missing time with their families, without receiving any extra pay, even if they make as little as $35,000 a year.
The problem is the salary threshold below which workers are guaranteed time-and-a-half overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours in a week has been frozen for decades, with no adjustment for the rising cost of living. As a result, the share of salaried workers guaranteed overtime pay has plummeted from six in 10 in 1975 to less than one in 10 today.
Trump overtime regulation replaces a 2016 Obama-era Labor Department rule that would have restored overtime protections for more than 12 million salaried workers earning up to $55,055 by 2023. The Trump rule slashes that salary level to $35,308 — and treats workers earning more than that as if they were highly paid executive who don’t need overtime pay. All told, Trump’s decision to slash the salary threshold means workers will miss out on $1.2 billion in wages each yearthey would have received under the 2016 rule.
This all goes back to the flagging American, parents and aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, foster parents, grandparents. Work these children’s parents to death.Steal wages. Underpay. Expose kids’ parents to toxic work environments, air, water, chemicals, products. Force these children’s charges to vomit up fear, anxieties, paranoia, chronic pain, chronic disease, self-imploding thinking, and the lies of Capitalism.
Stealing wages, man, and these deplorables — and they are in many regards — people who defend a pedophile, a serial stalker, a felon, a mafia thug, a child incarceration zealot, thief, abuser, idiot, narcissist, S/M freak, a traitor, an anti-worker/anti-family billionaire — cannot get a pass, man.
The leisure class is so sheltered from inevitable changes going on in the rest of society that it will adapt its views, if at all, “tardily.” Comfortably clueless (or calculating), the wealthy leisure class drags its heels (or digs them in) to retard economic and social forces that make for change. Hence the name “conservatives.” That (re)tardiness — that time lag imposed by conservative complacency — stalls and stifles the lives of everyone else and the timely economic development of the nation. (Think of our neglected infrastructure, education, housing, health care, public transport — you know the lengthening list today.)
Accepting and adjusting to social or economic change, unfortunately, requires prolonged “mental effort,” from which the leisured conservative mind quite automatically recoils. But so, too, Veblen said, do the minds of the “abjectly poor, and all those persons whose energies are entirely absorbed by the struggle for daily sustenance.” The lower classes were — and this seems a familiar reality in the age of Trump — as conservative as the upper class simply because the poor “cannot afford the effort of taking thought for the day after tomorrow,” while “the highly prosperous are conservative because they have small occasion to be discontented with the situation as it stands.” It was, of course, a situation from which they, unlike the poor, made a bundle in an age (both Veblen’s and ours) in which money flows only uphill to the 1%.
Veblen gave this analytic screw one more turn. Called a “savage” economist, in his meticulous and deceptively neutral prose, he described in the passage that follows a truly savage and deliberate process:
It follows that the institution of a leisure class acts to make the lower classes conservative by withdrawing from them as much as it may of the means of sustenance and so reducing their consumption, and consequently their available energy, to such a point as to make them incapable of the effort required for the learning and adoption of new habits of thought. The accumulation of wealth at the upper end of the pecuniary scale implies privation at the lower end of the scale.
Thorstein Veblen, the greatest American thinker you probably never heard of (or forgot). His working life — from 1890 to 1923 — coincided with America’s first Gilded Age, so named by Mark Twain, whose novel of that title lampooned the greedy corruption of the country’s most illustrious gentlemen.
I can wack the average deplorable over the head with fact, with history, with illustration, with point after point, evidence after evidence to prove to him or her that Trump is a wimp, that he is a cheat, that he hates the common man, that he wants people in the 80 percent as the manure for his fields of dreams and buckets of gold. I can show people that Trump is afraid of combat and guns and soldiers and enemies (perceived) but he is so happy to send the boys and girls — those parents’ offspring — to countries where the ultimate product is pure hatred, and it’s deserved, of America, red-white-blue.
I can go out in a field and shot up tin cans, get on my big motorcycle and cruise down the coast, get out on the water and suit up and scuba dive for shark and octopus shots (photos). I can try and get them to hitch-hike in Mexico, hang out in Vietnam, live in Guatemala.
Unfortunately, the average deplorable is a paper tiger, or so broken from racism and white supremacy that they are shells of homo sapiens. White poor people with overweight kids and children on the spectrum and rotting teeth and rotting roof tiles; grandparents stuffed away in old trailers; beer cans and old sofas for landscaping; Jesus Duck Dynasty photos, rusting motorcycle frames, taped up window frames, piled up old 5 gallon buckets that once held Lucky Charms and Blue Bunny ice cream.
These deplorables think Trump cares about, knows, defends them because as we see above, it’s the reality that people’s jobs depend on them intentionally not knowing, or jobs that keep them from knowing, or jobs that they have to confuse others about truth, or those who depend on a job to never want to know the truth.
When the truth hits them smack in the face, daily, with perversions of Trump vis-a-vis his Tweets or his People’s Slime or the Media Midgets, they are like dinosaurs looking at the meteorite flashing through the sky and hitting off the Yucatan. Dinosaurs caught in the meteorite’s tail.
This economist, Veblen, saw the coming of the Trumps, the Kardashians, the Holly-Dirt and Betsy DeVos, the Sheldons and Soroses, the Gates and Bezoses, the entire rotten Elan Musk smell of rotten thinking and rotten being. Fascism of the market, fascism of externalities those parents and those children pay for.
Later in life, Veblen, the evolutionary who believed that no one could foresee the future, nonetheless felt sure that the American capitalist system, as it was, could not last. He thought it would eventually fall apart. He went on teaching at Stanford, the University of Missouri, and then the New School for Social Research, and writing a raft of brilliant articles and eight more books. Among them, The Vested Interests and the Common Man (1920)may be the best summation of his once astonishing and now essential views. He died at the age of 72 in August 1929. Two months later, the financial scaffolding collapsed and the whole predatory system came crashing down.
To the end, Veblen had hoped that one day the Predators would be driven from the marketplace and the workers would find their way to socialism. Yet a century ago, it seemed to him more likely that the Predators and Saboteurs, collaborating as they did even then with politicians and government lackeys, would increasingly amass more profits, more power, more adulation from the men of the working class, until one day, when those very plutocrats actually captured the government and owned the state, a Gilded Business Man would arise to become a kind of primitive Warlord and Dictator. He would then preside over a new and more powerful regime and the triumph in America of a system we would eventually recognize and call by its modern name: fascism.
Back to the number I started with — 576 to one. i got that Friday on one of my gigs substituting, this time for a PE instructor, in Lincoln City. I met the counselor in the gym, and we talked. He had gigged in Korea as a college teacher, and he had done other stuff, but came back to USA and got his counselor credentials.
We were managing students, elementary aged, in the indoor recess since this place rains all the time.. I also had PE classes to sub. In the end, the broken system I work in and write about and then also ground truth around with people like Wayne produce some strong reactions to the leisure class and the punishment class and the policing of everything in America, from womb to tomb or cradle to grave (and beyond and pre-birth as well).
Wayne is the only counselor in the school with more or less 576 students. That’s it, really, game over. Students coming from broken, breaking, chaotic homes; three job parents; homelessness, or near homelessness; victims of or observers of rape and assault; already held down at birth with various chronic illnesses. These children are in schools with 30 kids to the classroom, with bullies and highly sexualized fellow students. These kids are forced to eat shitty curriculum and standardized testing. Bad food, bad images, bad media, bad opportunities, no public spaces, no enlightenment, no mentors really.
Five hundred and seventy-six students with varying levels of trauma, PTSD, epigentics and physical challenges, and self image issues, and self-loathing, and fears, anxieties, problems, dysfunctions directly from caregivers and families and the family lines.
That in itself — 576 to 1 — says more than any white paper on the failure of education, on why charter schools are bad, why we need a new curriculum, and why the family is dead, authority and god need to come back to the classroom, and how spoiling the child is all about sparing the rod.
Do my readers get it yet? Five Hundred and seventy six students and they have one counselor to talk to, to help them, to hash out issues, to help diagnose, to help get the students help.
America, and capitalism, and the perversions of the Trump Class, well, when do we put the rapists and murderers into the prisons and having them face death row as they have put 576 students in harm’s way?