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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Decision makers ignore us

Posted Wednesday, October 12, 2011, at 8:47 AM

I have an increasing affinity for the "common man" populist movement of the "Occupy Wall Street" protestors.

And while I've got some major issues with the policies advocated by the Tea Party, I think both groups arise out of a genuine disassociation of the decision-makers of this country with the common people.

I have come to believe that increasingly there are people in this country, on Wall Street and in Congress, who are making decisions that have a direct impact on my life, who aren't considering me in their decision-making process at all.

Those of us in the dying Main Street middle class are simply ignored by the decision makers, who have other agendas.

Like the Howard Beal character in the movie Network, "I'm mad as (heck) and I'm not going to take it any more." But like the occupiers, Beal had no solutions, he merely pointed out the problems (and died for his sins).

A friend of mine wrote to me recently, pointing out that "the root problem is that our economy takes from those who produce the most (Main Street) and gives it to those who produce the least (Wall Street), who gamble it way among themselves because it's more profitable to bet on failure than it is to reward success." The infamous credit default swaps -- which are still going on -- are a good example of that. So is the lucrative practice of "selling short" in a bad economy (which contributes to the problem).

A CEO of one of the major banks that is being targeted by the occupiers recently defended his policies of charging fees for bank accounts and debit cards by saying the extra billions they would generate in profits were necessary because his job was to make profits for his stockholders. Which in truth, was what he was hired to do. At least he was honest. The small number of people who pay his salary -- his stockholders -- are happy, even if the large number of people who use that bank's services are not pleased with being gouged at a time when every dime counts.

Perhaps it's because there seems to be a conflict in how business is being defined these days.

If your definition of business is simply to make the owner rich, then the CEO is right on target.

But increasingly, there are people who believe, as the occupiers do, that the definition of a business should be expanded to include other factors, such as the impact of that business on society. For those people, the definition of a business also is to provide useful and safe products for that businesses' customers, and to provide good, decent-paying jobs.

This evolving definition, and the contradictions it creates between the two sides, is at the heart of much of the disassociation between the decision makers and those impacted by their decisions.

Take for example, the case of a small businesses that is fundamentally sound, but having trouble due to the current economy. Over and over again, we're seeing the following scenario play out in this country. Someone buys the company-- but not to make it work -- solely to make money. Because the company is distressed, they get it for less than it's actually worth. That new CEO then fires the bulk of the staff, which is the company's biggest expense. Then he sells off the company's assets to make his profit. He got rich, which was his goal. The impact on the community where that business was located, and on the employees now out of jobs, did not factor into his decision-making process at all.

From the perspective of that CEO, there is no reason it should. From the perspective of the employees, there was every reason to do so. It's a case of conflicting definitions.

Could Congress have done anything about it? Perhaps. But in general, congressmen aren't inclined to do so. Unemployed people don't contribute to increasingly expensive re-election campaigns. That rich CEO does. That congressman can pay lip service all he wants to the poor, unemployed worker, but when push comes to shove, he'll side with the guy who will get him re-elected -- because unfortunately, large media buys sway voters far more than actual policies and actions do. Get a good advertising campaign and you can get the very people you helped put out of work to vote for you.

And that's why Congress is the second component of the occupiers' anger. Not only do they see it as being bought and paid for by Wall Street, they don't see Congress doing anything to actually redress their anger.

Right now, the most important issue in this country is jobs. But how many job creation bills have you seen come out of Congress in the last six months? Essentially, zero. The president recently proposed a bill (which I consider flawed, but at least he proposed something), but his opponents declared it dead in the water before they even looked at it. So much for considering options and ideas.

Because for both sides, jobs are no longer an economic problem to be solved, they've become a campaign issue. There is no advantage therefore, politically, in solving the problem before the election.

Rather than find a compromise solution now, the two political parties are hoping they can make the other side the ogres of this tragedy and thereby win increased political power at the polls next November.

Let me stress that. Next November. A year from now. And whoever wins won't take office until the following January of 2013. Which means that's about the time you can actually expect Congress to finally take some real action, one way or the other. That's 15 months from now. At best. Until then, we're on our own.

Because it's all about the power. That's how they've come to define politics. It has nothing to do anymore with actually solving problems, which is what most of us thought it was about. Once again, the definitions used by the decision makers do not match the definitions of the people impacted by those decisions. The decisions they're making now do not factor middle class Main Street into the equation. It's not important right now, except for platitudes in campaign ads. No matter how poor their approval ratings are right now, most of them know they're going to get re-elected, anyway.

The decision makers, in Congress and Wall Street, are no longer in touch with the people impacted by their decisions -- because they don't have to be. They're living in a plutocratic world of their own. And the options of middle class Main Street to upset their applecart are fewer and farther between than they've been in a long time.



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