Monday, September 5, 2011

Why Can't More Americans Enjoy the "Life of Riley"? (At Least Part Time!)

Today, Labor Day, I'm pondering how it is more Americans - like their working counterparts overseas- can't enjoy the life of Riley (even part time) like the bond traders, investment bankers and their ilk. Or, the CEOs of major American corporations (which I'll get to later) now working their employees to the bone for more profit as they enrich themselves even at Uncle Sam's expense by paying next to nothing in taxes. And the GOOPers want to make this more extreme!

There are two aspects I wish to cover here:

1) The corporate pile -on and speed up which I've already briefly examined in an earlier blog,


2) Why down time and the ability to relax have been stolen from so many workers, and why the unemployed have been made to feel an underclass.

In the earlier link, I noted the Mother Jones piece: All Work and No Pay on how corporations have actually sped up their processes to wring more productivity from workers, while not increasing their pay. Why has this been done? There are a couple of reasons.

First, corporations want to keep profits climbing even in these tough times, mainly by laying off workers, not taking on any new ones and making the existing staff work longer, harder and faster. They call it "accelerated output without increased pay". But another, shorter term they use is "off-loading": cutting jobs and dumping the associated work loads onto the remaining staff. It is engendering much employee stress, as well as adverse health conditions galore even as medical benefits are cut and more costs fobbed onto employees. The key word these companies use is "productivity" - meaning if they can wring more work out of fewer workers, they have less money to pay out, and can go on indefinitely without hiring.

If some of their staff burn out, or die from cardiac arrest or stroke, no problemo. There's such a vast surplus labor force out there they can get almost anyone they want to come in and do the same sped up work load for the same low benefits, or reduced wages. The newcomers have zero bargaining power because there are so many of them who desperately need money to pay the bills.

And what have some of these corporations gained from this process? According to a recent GAO report 25 of the top 100 corporations have featured CEOs with an average pay of $16.8 million and have received government tax refunds of $304 million or nearly one third of a billion dollars.

To acheive this, Corporate America - the same ones slave driving these workers to make more profits - have essentially re-written the tax code so the following are examples of the benefits that have accrued:

Verizon: Paid no taxes last year, paid their CEO $16 million

GE: Paid no taxes last year, paid their CEO Jeff Immelt $15 million

EBay: Paid no taxes last year, paid their CEO John J. Donohoe $12 million

How did our tax code get so fucked up that these corporations can make out like bandidos and the ordinary Janes and Joes are screwed to a far-thee-well? The answer is that they paid more for congressional lobbying than they paid in taxes. Hence, by relentless lobbying in our corporate whore-bribery system of government, they exacted more benefits by enabling the tax landscape to be altered in their favor, than they had to cough up in taxes to support the system.

This has also been occurring in an environment in which their top political PACs and lackeys have profited while their companies, and supporting banks have rejected in toto higher taxes for the tax commons, in favor of extending more debt. In other words, they've leveraged citizen debt as the only "break" by which most people can garner any purchases (including homes, college educations) beyond what their salaries can afford. They want and need a nation of debtors, because debtors have no choice but to work until they drop dead!

Meanwhile, in other nations, people haven't fallen under the weight of their corporations to the same extent because their governments still believe in protecting them. In other words, they aren't bought and sold!

The benefits? The average worker in the UK works 122 hours less per year than his U.S. counterparts. In Germany, the average worker (still strongly protected by German trade Unions) puts in 378 fewer hours than workers in the U.S. Think of that? Allotting 8 hours for a typical German work day that translates into 47¼ extra days per year, or 9 ½ extra weeks.

Little wonder many German workers can actually relax on their vacations, say at Majorca or the French Mediterranean coast, and not merely go there on some electronic tether which makes real relaxation impossible. Or, as P.J. O'Rourke put it in his W/E WSJ piece, Americans can "vacation their pants off, but haven't mastered the art of relaxing". Well, how can they when they leave for just 5 or 6 days and have to wonder every second of their waking hours if some task was left undone, or if the office will call, or if Tim Troublemaker is gaming for their promised raise?

Americans then, have been trapped in a hyper-work vice from which they are unable to escape!

This brings us to (2) and why down time and the ability to relax have been stolen from so many workers, and why the unemployed have been made to feel an underclass.

There are many possible explanations, that range from the residual stench of Calvinism on the early American psyche (with its insistence moral virtue and labor are inextricably bound up) to the American fetish for "individualism" which, of course, leaves so many hostage to corporate exploitation via over work! But perhaps the best I've seen is in the Harpers essay 'The Language of Work' (July, 2o11, p. 19). As noted by author Mark Kingwell:

"The values of work are still dominant in far too much of life. Indeed, these values have exercised their own kind of linguistic genius, creating a host of phrases, terms and labels that bolster rather than challenge the dominance of work. The vocabulary naturalizes and so makes invisible some of the very dubious, if not evil, assumptions of the work idea. This is all the more true when economic times are bad, since work then becomes itself a scarce commodity. This makes people anxious and the anxiety is taken up by work: 'Don't fire me! I don't want to be out of work!'"

This is interesting because by seizing on the use of language, the work manipulators are able to infiltrate and gut the minds of citizens, potential workers or not. Since language is the coin of thought, the 'must work' meme also takes control of thought processes at the most fundamental level. In this way, it works much the same way that the "war on terror" has to usurp national resources in pursuit of exclusive military and "defense" ends, as pointed out by the authors of the book, Collateral Language.

In reference to the above, immediately in the wake of 9-11 (when I used to blog on

I called this linguistic juijitsu perpetrated by the power elites on a vulnerable citizeny, 'thought rapes'. Since the criteria of usage agreed to was not what a rational, literate person would expect, but what the language manipulators wanted. I.e. That 9-11 "was an act of war". It was not, but rather a monumental CRIMINAL act meriting criminal prosecution and sanctions. By elevating it to an "act of war", the import and influence of the Al Qaeda vermin had been inflated beyond that of being mere criminal vermin. (Which they were in reality). They'd now been awarded (by the Bushies) with gravitas equal to a whole NATION state! Not only that, but a nation state worthy of marshalling ALL national resources of a so-called Super power!! Logically, therefore, this rendered Al Qaeda another 'superpower', if it had to be met with all the manpower deployment of a superpower! (Not to mention nerly $2 trillion spent!)

Thus, by this dastardly tactic, all dissent was effectively squelched and dissenters labeled the next of kin to terrorists. Even worse, the "act of war" then demanded a response known as "the war on terror". This itself quickly metastasized into a war on civil liberties which is ongoing. (And amidst that, 8 of 10 Americans can't name 5 of the Bill of Rights)

In much the same way, the pro-work vocabularly has benefited the malicious interests of the corporations who've exploited it, to the extent of increasing their profits 22% the past 10 years. Seeing that, they've continued to use it to hammer existing employees to do more, faster, with fewer benefits and pay - without complaint. In a way, what they've achieved by this language mind-fuck is almost on a par with the Nazis' with their famous slogan that greeted all who entered the Auschwitz concentration camp: "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("Work shall make you free"). In reality, combined with a bare subsistence diet, it killed most of those that the gas chambers didn't.

The author of the Harpers essay goes on to correctly observe:

"Work language is full of bullshit. The victory of work bullshit is that, in addition to having no regard for the truth, it passes itself off as innocuous or even beneficial"

This can be seen even now with all the puff pieces (like those referenced in the above link) being churned out to try to support the idea that the older citizens who work longer benefit most. Horse shit! And this hog swill is pumped out not only by the usual suspects, but the AARP and its magazine and Bulletins as well. In fact, apart from economic necessity there's no reason on earth a senior ought to be working past 62 or 65. Life is too short and there's too damned much to learn and see to waste it on work. But the BS goes on, pro work and then we're also informed (bull-shitted) that those who work longer, live longer! Well, they've never proven that and only use specious statistics anyone can crank out. ("Lies, damned lies and statistics")

Thus does philospher Harry Frankfurt (quoted in the article) point out that "bullshit is far more threatening and politically evil than lying. The bull shitter 'does not reject the authority of truth as the liar does, he instead pays no attention to it at all'. By virtue of this bullshit is the greater enemy of truth than lies are".

Of course, the corollary to the work fetishists' seizure of the language is that those who don't work - for whatever reason - are denigrated as "deadbeats" merely for receiving unemployment checks averaging the princely sum of about $266 every 2 weeks. Never mind this is about the lowest benefit in the industrial world. Those out of work for lengthy periods are dismissed as "losers" and not meriting any further benefits extensions, and as "parasites" on the economy for even receiving food stamps to ensure their kids don't starve.

Never mind the economy isn't doing dog shit to help them and the corporations (who pay their CEOs more than they pay Uncle Sam in taxes) are sitting on more than $2 trillion in cash reserves. Worse, these same corps. are now telling long time unemployed they need not apply! They only want to consider current workers!

In the meantime, anyone who displays any remote hint of not being ready to put pedal to the metal 24/7 is looked down upon as a worm, or worse - in the language manipulator's parlance: "Un-American". God forbid anyone be called un-American, yet when one considers that all those millions of non-Americans in other nations enjoy everything from extended paid vacation leave, to sick leave to maternity leave (for a full 9 mos.) one wonders why more don't display some un-American dynamic! And wtf are we gaining for all that productivity? Well, nothing! All the gains have gone to the financial sector (in charge of debt leverage, collections and applying interest rates to loans twenty times higher than what the miserly Fed offers for cash holdings, fixed income returns). These finance parasites, the true parasites since they produce nothing, now earn 6.4 times as much as they did in 1980 (according to the Economy Policy Inst.) and have entered 1.3 million more of their ilk into the top 0.1 % of income earners (earning $370,000/yr or more).

Can or will Americans escape once and for all from this manipulated mental slavery, this collateral language imprinted on the pseudo-individualist culture?

Yes, if they can themselves achieve the "meta-bullshit level" to effectively out BS the BS'ers, and that means telling them to stuff their pro work lingo where the sun don't shine! Next time some little desk monkey in a corner office says he wishes to discuss "re-positioning" tell him what to do with himself. And bear in mind so long as you're a hostage to fear (e.g. of losing your corporate chains) you will remain that monkey's slave, no matter how hard you labor!

Making it easier to do will depend on understanding the base false premise underlying the collateral language: that our economy can produce ever more with much less. This is the basis of the austerity mindset and spending cut obsession permeating Tea Bagger Amerikka, just as it is the mindset underlying the corporate manipulation of the workforce to have every ten do the work of 20.

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