Monday, February 18, 2008

Woody's Economic Maxim #1: Corporate profits are never "earned," they are "taken."

Over 40 percent of American families have less than $5,000 in savings. One bill, a hurricane out of the blue, can blow everything away.
Originally, I intended to let the maxim stand alone. But then I happened upon (was directed by Ron Perlstein to) this amazing bit of information, and saw it contextualizing my previous (constant) assertions on this subject.
Tom Geoghegan pulls together apparently disparate threads of our political condition in order to knit a picture of its underlying structure. That's the true aim of great social criticism—and he does it better than any social critic writing today. This passage below is the essence of Geogheganism—which is the political party I'd declare at the polling place, were the option available.
It took ten years—almost all of the 1990s—for the median family income to get to the same level that it was, in real terms, in 1989. But in 1999, when we got to the same income level we had in 1989, the "median" family had to work six more weeks a year.

To keep from falling, the 1999 middle class had to work six more weeks a year for free. Not a few more hours—six more weeks! By the way, maybe it's worth pausing to say this: No wonder our FDP keeps shooting up, if the middle class is being forced to work for free.

But all this unpaid extra labor tends to undermine the Rule of Law.

Why? The economist John Maynard Keynes put it best: "Nothing corrupts society more than to disconnect effort and reward." That's what did in the old Soviet Union: no matter how hard one worked, one could not get ahead of someone who did not work at all. All that is what is happening in the United States, too. Of course, in a certain way our country would seem the very opposite of the Soviet Union. Here, if people dont' work, they're going to end up homeless. Then again, if they do work, they may end up homeless, too. (Emphasis supplied.)

That's the point. Like the USSR, we are slowly breaking the connection between effort and reward. And in terms of the Rule of Law, that's a dangerous thing to do. It's dangerous to push the middle class into questioning the fairness of the rules.
Let's be clear about this: The USer economy--its crony/predatory capitalism aspect, anyway--is actually a threat to "the Rule of Law," which is the sole basis for sustaining a democratic polity because it decouples effort and reward! This is a brilliant analysis, and I commend it highly.

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