The poverty of politics

For the past… well, as long as anybody can remember, almost every politician has run on essentially the same message: change!

From Bill to Bush to Hillary and Obama, Martin to Dion to Harper and Layton, the buzz-word swarming around each and every election in modern history is the word ‘change’.


For one, it seems to indicate that a lot of people think some sort of change is necessary. When Bill was elected, it was because people wanted change. When Bush Jr. was elected, again, it was a change. And when the Republicans lost the House and Senate, it was because people wanted change. And now it looks like Obama will win, because the people wanted change they can believe in. Hell, even Republicrats are using the word, despite the fact that they’re in the White House.

In Canada, Harper campaigned on change, and now the Liberals and NDP are talking about change, and provincial campaigns are all about change. With all the talk of changing things floating around, you’d think that there’d be a lot of change actually happening.

But of course, there isn’t. Every time a new politician comes around talking about “change”, and gets himself elected, all people care about 4 years later is “change again”. Because nothing has changed. One millionaire suit has been replaced by another; maybe the first was a lawyer and the next an oil man, the next married to a condiments empire and the next… what does Obama do again?

But overall, nothing’s changed in the past 30 years – atleast nothing good. According to a slew of reports, studies and polls gathered by dozens of different committees and NPO’s and think tanks, things have actually gotten a bit worse in a lot of ways – atleast for the average joe.

But there is some change happening. Some people are experiencing a boom in their standards of living, and are reaping unimaginable benefit from the past decades of prosperity.

In 1980 the average CEO made 40 times the salary of the lowest-income worker. Today, a CEO’s yearly income is nearly 400 times that of the lowest-paid worker. In 30 short years the creme de la creme has seen an explosive %1000 increase in their wealth, while the average joe employee has seen… wait, what? A decrease?

Compared to 30 years ago, workers today are earning less and working more. The minimum wage, which millions are forced to depend on, has barely budged despite increasing inflation – adjusting for that inflation, infact, reveals that compared to 10 years ago, the minimum wage has decreased %7, and this is after the increase applied in 2007.

And this doesn’t even take into account the millions of Americans who make less than minimum wage by working in the “tips” industry, where the majority of their income is expected to come from hand-outs (and contrary to popular belief, millionaires leaving $10,000 tips doesn’t happen all that often).

The number of billionaires in the US has increased during this phase as well, despite the lowering standards for bottom half of the “ladder”. The boom in foreign labour power has caused the loss of millions of jobs as corporations seek 3rd world labourers whom they can pay a buck a day, and get even richer because of it, forcing hundreds of thousands of workers to either take a huge cut to their quality of life to find a shitty services job, or invest years and thousands of dollars in new job training.

This has created an incredibly tough obstacle for sections of the population which traditionally have always had an incredibly difficult time attaining prosperity for themselves – namely, the black and latino communities. Even though the shroud of institutionalized and socially-accepted segregation has nearly been eradicated, it may be too little too late. Black and latino families who have lived in the United States for decades under the brutality of segregation find themselves emerging from that dark clusterfuck of history into an economic system which is unrelenting in its persecution of the poor. Most simply do not have the means, or the oppurtunity, to break out of it; poverty-striken for generations, they’re expected to somehow fork over thousands of dollars for mediocre education or toil away serving customers at McDonalds. Many turn to crime in order to make ends meet, or simply to exist in a micro-society where they feel they belong, and have the oppurtunity to gain some sort of material or social wealth – it says a lot when young black and latino men feel they have more of a chance of surviving a gun battle in some projects back alley then they do making it in “normal” society.

So what are we to do? Well, people can vote for Obama, and feel some magnificent historical leap has been made with the coming of the first black President. But realistically, Obama isn’t out there trying to find a way to fundamentally change the way our society functions, to break down all of the barriers and exploitive relationships between the rich and the poor, the well-to-do and the underprivelidged. The most he can do is what is dictated by the confines of the ideology he represents – which isn’t much for most people. He might agitate for the creation of a universal health care system (which has been tried before, but been met with incredible hostility from his beauraucratic and millionaire friends). He might develop a patchwork of social welfare programs designed to help – minimally – the millions of Americans who are repeatedly abused by the system. He might even not invade Iran.

In the long run, Obama’s nothing new, and neither are any of the other politicians who’ve spent tens of millions of dollars ensuring that they’re the only realistic choice for the country, because those incredibly deep pockets are connected to the very same source of finance capital which is causing most of our problems. They have a deep material interest in ensuring the survival of this way of life, and they’ve made that perfectly clear throughout history. And while some politicians may try to flirt with us about how they’re going to make our lives better, the fact of the matter is, we’ve heard that song and dance too many times to count, and nothing has gotten better. Technological development may have advanced, and we now have access to cool gimmicks and gadgets we may not have dreamed of 30 years ago, but overall, we’re still in the same situation, facing the same hardships and the same misery – just with more flashy, distracting objects around us. Having a computer and satallite television won’t help you when your company decides it’s going to save millions of dollars and ship your job to some dank poverty-stricken country, or save you if you suffer some dibilitating illness or injury which prevents you from working (and which you’ll have to pay thousands of dollars in hospital fees for), or when you become too old to work and that McDonalds pension you’ve dreamed of turns out not to exist. A few of us may get lucky and actually be able to scratch out a livable existence. Nowhere near the level of wealth and freedom enjoyed by the super-rich – but in a society where we’ve all come to accept these predicaments and social norms, hey, maybe it isn’t all that bad, atleast for me.

But of course, that takes for granted the billions of people whose pathetic existence would drive most of us to insanity if we ever had to endure it for even a short period of time. Men, women and children the world over who scrape dirty rice from bacteria-infested mud and live with the constant moans of their dying family and neighbours and the unrelenting screams of those who have lost loved ones echoing through their communities – a situation repeatedly played out across Africa and South America, despite the fact that only a few miles a way, billions of dollars in oil and diamonds are being syphoned by industry monopolies to give us in the west all of those creatures of comfort we’ve come to take for granted.

But they’re a world away, and when we leave the house each day we don’t have to be confronted by their suffering, or even the people suffering in our own countries. We can change the channel and make disappear those horrible images, and go about our days without a thought for it.

Or we can do something about it - something that doesn’t involve voting in the next in a long line of super-priviledged exploiters.

Change, change… The Chinese have a curse that translates roughly as ‘may you live in a time of changes’. When Gorbachov came to power in USSR, he wanted change, he spoke of change, and he DID change the country… in such a way that it ceased to exist.
In fact that may be the cause for some of other world’s problems. There is no USSR any more, no example of ‘better life’ for those low-income people, and much less fear of any large-scale problems for the high-income ones