Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Poor Make Us Rich

No illegal immigrant could
be as harmful!
Ronald Reagan had it wrong, of course. He defended his promotion of government on behalf of the wealthy by repeating the words "trickle down economics" until they seemed like a legitimate theory, rather than an unfortunate urinary incident. Two generations later, the loose-leaf Tea Party mob has brought millions of working-class people into political alliances with the über-rich and against the poor at home and abroad.

Two very different items came my way today, reminding me of just how misplaced public outrage is these days. The first was an unusual sort of contest, asking people to choose the most evil among a list of eleven billionaires. (I am not anti-billionaire, by the way; see previous posts about good and bad members of this class.) Fortunately, nobody from the Walton family was on the ballot, making my choice among the remaining candidates a bit easier. All are strong defenders of the right to unfettered accumulation of unearned wealth, but war profiteer and instigator Stephen Bechtel, Jr. (shown above, not seeming to enjoy his money much) was a clear winner in my book.

As much as I enjoyed the rhetorical swings at these plutocrats -- who will never know I exist, much less that I blame them for trashing my country -- I found another story that is a bit more useful and positive. Writing about Indian labor organizer Ela Bhatt, Renée Loth makes a very strong case for the importance of the global underclass in supporting the lifestyles enjoyed by middle and upper classes. The informal sector in particular -- the refuge of casual labors who often have no work place, no documentation, no rights, and no employers -- provides a huge subsidy to the formal economy. Ela Bhatt is an attorney from Ahmedadad who established the Self Employed Women's Association in 1972 to advocate for Indian women in this sector.

Bhatt has succeeded in organizing 1.3 million women, bringing some level of empowerment to workers at the extreme margins of the world economy. Loth points out the sad irony that the rules of the capitalist game -- being written by those who have the most to gain -- have not afforded a million women at Walmart similar recognition in recent court battles.

A third item I noticed today is Barney Frank's explanation of how the political process continues to tilt in favor  of the rich. Scapegoats abound -- immigrants, unions, the poor -- that divert attention from the real villains.

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