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5 Conservative Economic Myths Occupy Wall St. Is Helping Bust

For decades the corporate media has force-fed “conventional wisdom” free-market economic nonsense to the American public.
 
 
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For decades the corporate media has force-fed “conventional wisdom” free-market economic nonsense to the American public. We have been told that it’s good to give more and more to the wealthy few, that it’s good to send jobs and money out of the country, and especially that the people who run the big corporations are better and more “efficient” at deciding what’s best for the rest of us. As those decades passed we watched as the wealthy few get wealthier and fewer, while the rest of us – the 99 percent – fall further and further behind. But we have had it explained to us that our lying eyes aren’t seeing what they are seeing, and that the obvious isn’t what it is. We have been seemingly powerless to change this.

Asleep 

While time passed and these economic time-bombs messed up the economy, it seemed as if this fog of propaganda had lulled people to sleep. The uncontested repetition of free-market slogans led many to a bland acceptance that there was no alternative. Many of us even incorporated the concepts into our own thinking.  Others seemed to accept the cutbacks, the fees, the scams, the disappointments and the obviously false statements as the way things are.

Occupy Wall Street has changed all that. You can take that stuff and stuff it, they said. We’re tired of this. We aren’t going to listen anymore. We won’t passively accept the economic nonsense the corporate media tries to feed us and that we can see just doesn’t work. At least, it doesn’t work for 99 percent of us.

The Top Five

Here are five “conventional wisdom” doses of economic nonsense that we have been fed:

1. Business does everything better than government.

Corporate conservatives argue that businesses and their one-dollar-one-vote system of decision-making is better and more efficient than We, the People's government and its one-person-one-vote system. They argue that constant competition, placing companies under constant fear of going under and people under constant fear of job-loss, focuses the mind like a pending execution. They say it leads them to do only what they should be doing and no more, in the best possible way, always looking for the best and most “efficient” ways, forcing innovation to occur. 

But as we have seen, what actually happens in this kind of dehumanized “Force You” system (as in “F.U.”) is that businesses are forced to cut every corner, cheapen every product, cut out every service, lay people off, cut people’s wages while adding hours, gut benefits … and probably go under anyway because when every business does the same 99 percent of us can’t afford to buy or do things anymore

The effect on people (human beings – remember them?) is worse. Stress-induced illness is rampant in our fear-based society. People do not get sufficient sleep, skip vacations, work long hours, spend less time with their families, spend very little time in nature, and the rest of the things that make us human.

This idea that people are best when operating under constant fear is similar to the conservative mantra that everyone should carry a gun because then you have “a polite society.” Perhaps constant fear and stress keeps people on their toes and makes them “behave” but in the long run it’s just no way to live. 

Another “feature” of this top-down, one-dollar-one-vote, “market” system that the corporate conservatives advocate is that only those at the top levels of the corporate/financial ladder make the decisions for, and receive the benefits of, society. This is great if – and only if – you are in that 1 percent. But one-person-one-vote, democratic government decision-making means all of us have an equal say with equal access and equal opportunity, and society operates for the benefit of all of us.

2. Rich people are “job creators.”

This is the old “trickle-down” idea -- that if you give enough money to the already-rich eventually some of that money will trickle down to the rest of us. This is also called the “getting peed on” theory of economics.

The basis of this thinking comes from thetheories of Ayn Rand, who argued that society consists of “producers” and “parasites.” Rand’s fundamentally anti-democratic ideology says that democracy is a form of “collectivism” in which people who don’t want to work and produce use their numbers to steal from a gifted few who are the “producers” of goods and services. Rand’s followers claim that wealthy people are rich because they “produce.” The rest of us are “parasites” who “take money” from the productive rich, by taxing them. This revenue is “redistributed” to the parasites to pay for our “entitlements.” 

They say that if wealthy people have more money they will use that money to start businesses and hire people. But anyone with a real business will tell you that people coming in the door and buying things is what creates jobs. In a real economy, people wanting to buy things – demand – is what causes businesses to form and people to be hired.

History – and a quick look around us today – shows that when all the money goes to a few at the top demand from the rest of us dries up and everything breaks down.  Taxing the people at the top and reinvesting the money into the democratic society is fundamental to keeping things going.

3. Government and taxes take money out of the economy.

Yes, they actually say that government and taxes “take money out of the economy.” They argue that the money government collects is a) pocketed by politicians; or b) stuffed under a giant mattress; or c) is just wasted.

In reality the taxes that government collects are invested in the “public structures” that create the prosperity and lifestyle we enjoy – or at least did before taxes were cut. Tax revenue builds the infrastructure of transportation, courts, schools, universities, research facilities and other institutions that enable our businesses to grow and prosper and the consumer protection, safety inspection, water and sewer, health, parks and arts that help us live and enjoy our lives.

But there is a powerful reason for people to feel the government does seem to be providing value for the money it costs us: so much of the federal budget goes to military and military-related spending. Spending on wars, the "Defense" department (military), intelligence, nuclear weapons, veterans, and related budget items (including interest on money borrowed for past military spending) is a significant portion of the budget, and people instinctively feel that the country is not getting back services that match what they are putting in.

High top tax rates also reduce the incentive to be greedy and destructive, which can overcome many of us and make us do things we shouldn’t. Cutting top tax rates in the '80s forced a change in business models away from long-term planning and building wealth by building sustainable businesses over decades. Instead, since you could take home a fortune overnight, it made more sense to go for the get-rich-quick, sell-the-farm-style schemes so prevalent today.

4. Regulations Kill Jobs

Corporate conservatives say that “government just gets in the way” and costs money, which leaves less room for hiring. This is a corollary to the “business knows best” argument and to the idea that society consists of a few “producers” who are inherently superior to the masses of people. The thinking is that We, the People don’t know what we are doing, and businesses with their top-down structure will do the right thing more efficiently.

Those engaged in a business do know the business better than outsiders.  But regulations that protect the public, employees and the environment govern how the actions of businesses affect the rest of us.  A business wants to make a profit, and will only care how regulations affect that goal.  It makes sense for government to set up regulations because the rest of us are concerned about the larger world of the rest of us, and therefore understand more clearly how the actions of a business will affect the rest of us.

In may cases regulations keep businesses from doing things that kill jobs – and people. 

5. “Protectionism” hurts the economy.

Corporate conservatives argue that “free trade” is always good under all circumstances. They say we get lower prices and our businesses are able to reach more customers. Of course trade can be a wonderful thing, increasing the standard of living on both sides of the trade border. 

But the trade deals of recent decades have not been free or fair, and can’t really even be called “trade.” What has happened is countries sell to us but do not buy equally from us, causing huge trade deficits that have drained our economy and our jobs and our wages. Instead of increasing prosperity they have been used to increase exploitation of working people and the environment for the benefit of a wealthy few.

Our prosperity is the fruit of our democracy.  

Conservatives say that it is good that businesses in countries like China are more competitive because they don’t have a lot of regulations to comply with. Countries where the people have little say in things don’t have to spend the money to pay minimum wages, keep the environment clean, keep workers safe and keep products up to standard and they don’t have to worry about lawsuits. They are more “efficient.” So they can charge less. 

Conservatives who argue that we should have less regulation, lower wages, fewer benefits, fewer consumer, worker and environmental protections are really arguing that we should abandon democracy. By opening our borders to goods made where people do not have a say we made democracy a competitive disadvantage. 

Fed Up With the Nonsense

So as we see all around us today, the economic conventional wisdom nonsense that we were force-fed for decades didn’t work, messed things up, and people finally got fed so much if it that they are fed up. The #occupy crowd got fed up and showed up. They sleep in the park and on sidewalks, marched, and took the batons and pepper spray that seem to always come at us when we protest. They persisted, and awakened the rest of us. Now it has spread to cities across the country. 

They shook loose from the shadow-fog of propaganda that shrouds us from morning to night, from radio to TV to newspaper. They didn’t prepare a media strategy with a savvy focus-group-tested message targeting key demographics. They didn’t care how they looked or how they would be seen. They didn’t care what the media would say. They certainly didn’t care what Wall Street would do. They saw clearly where the problem is, and decided to just go ahead and do something

They said that what is going on is wrong, it is bad, it is hurting people, and that they were not going to put up with that for one more minute. They said it is time to be citizens not consumers.  They are choosing to have some meaning in their lives beyond just being worker bees helping perpetuate a destructive system.

So they decided to “occupy Wall Street” in the name of the 99 percent of us who have been losing out in this economy, and the honesty and clarity of that has caught on.

“No one is confused about the message. Wall Street got bailed out; Main Street was abandoned. The top 1% rigs the rules and pockets the rewards. And 99% get sent the bill for the party they weren't even invited to.” – Robert Borosage

Poets, priests and politicians
Have words to thank for their positions
Words that scream for your submission
And no-one's jamming their transmission
And when their eloquence escapes you
Their logic ties you up and rapes you

-“De Do Do Do De Da Da Da,” The Police

Their innocence will pull me through

 

 

Dave Johnson blogs at Seeing the Forest and is a fellow at the Commonweal Institute.
 
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