It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his livelihood depends on not understanding it


As Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his livelihood depends on not understanding it."

About thirty years ago, I witnessed the transition from an academic system in which most students majored in liberal arts, with the expectation that their eventual employers would train them in the job skills they needed, to a system in major companies literally stopped hiring liberal arts majors for anything but commissioned sales jobs. Within a couple of years, anyone who didn't major in business or computer science (or pre-med or pre-law) was considered a sentimental fool. Meanwhile, all forms of financial aid except loans and ROTC scholarships failed to keep up with rising tuition costs (caused largely by administrative bloat--but that's another story).

The result was a generation of college graduates who knew how to manipulate numbers and were indoctrinated into Milton Friedman's version of economics and possibly, if they were ROTC cadets, into the most paranoid versions of Cold War foreign policy.

They firmly believed that making money for the shareholders was the ONLY purpose of a company, and they acted accordingly, blithely laying off workers to make their companies "lean and mean," telling themselves that hiring slave labor in the Third World was "raising living standards in impoverished countries," cutting back on the quality of their products and services, eliminating corporate charitable contributions, and then telling federal and local legislators that they could add Stateside jobs, produce better products, and contribute to charity only if they received tax cuts.

Never mind that employee wages and benefits, investment in facilities, R&D expenses, and charitable contributions were already tax deductible. Business lobbyists played on the typical American's ignorance of how companies are taxed (if you ask, you'll find that they imagine that companies are taxed on their gross receipts, not on their profits) and cynically asked for tax cuts, citing altruistic reasons but actually aiming to improve returns for the shareholders.

Unfortunately, the federal government, the states, and municipalities were stupid enough to grant these tax cuts, only to see their own budgets suffer.

The Left (the real Left, not the former liberal Republicans who now control the Democratic Party) called the corporate world on its greed and cynicism and single-minded pursuit of returns for the shareholders. It decried foreign outsourcing as destructive to America's middle class. It pointed out the sheer waste of spending hundreds of billions of dollars per year on the military when our civilian infrastructure was falling behind the rest of the Western world. It warned against so many articles of conventional faith that the mainstream media treated it as "fringe," a bunch of outdated cranks who couldn't get with the laissez-faire program.

The oil industry didn't want to hear about alternative energy. The finance industry didn't want to hear that it was pumping up a series of bubbles. The manufacturing industries kept sending production abroad in search of cheaper and cheaper labor, oblivious to the way they were destroying the purchasing power of their own customers. The military-industrial complex didn't want to hear about foreign policy scenarios in which the U.S. wasn't at war with anyone. The law enforcement-prison-industrial complex didn't want to hear that the drug war was criminalizing entire communities. The land developer-real estate-industrial complex didn't want to hear that their houses were bigger than what most people needed and too expensive for the average person to afford. The pundit-industrial complex made sure that no one deviated from the official line that America was the greatest country in the world and had nothing to learn from anyone else. Everyone was making too much money to stop bilking and exploiting fellow Americans, who, true to American culture, "didn't hold by book larnin" and just believed everything they heard on the radio and on TV.

Well, all these bubbles are bursting in quick succession. Online comments indicate that some people are waking up and realizing that they've been had. However, you still see the brazen apologists for the oil companies, the banks, the builders, the retailers of shoddy goods, the outsourcers, and everyone else who has helped destroy America's middle class, acting as if nothing bad has happened.

They epitomize Upton Sinclair's statement.

No comments:

Blog Archive