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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Economic Justice: Blaming the Unemployed

Ever since the famous tirade from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange last summer, there has been a veneer of respectability for the argument that claims entitlement for the financial industry and its beneficiaries and blames the unemployed "losers" for the economic crisis. Ever vigilant to find poor reasoning in writing about the economy, Dean Baker makes note of a column in the New York Times for continuing this pattern of blaming the victim.

First, Brooks highlights a disturbing statistic:

Don Peck reports that last November nearly a fifth of all men between 25 and 54 did not have jobs, the highest figure since the labor bureau began counting in 1948.

This level of unemployment reveals that much is not right with an economy built on wage-paying jobs.

Then, he goes on to talk about the toxic effects of unemployment.

Long-term unemployment is one of the most devastating experiences a person can endure, equal, according to some measures, to the death of a spouse. Men who are unemployed for a significant amount of time are more likely to drink more, abuse their children more and suffer debilitating blows to their identity. Unemployed men are not exactly the most eligible mates. So in areas of high unemployment, marriage rates can crumble — while childbearing rates out of wedlock do not.

A period of economic prosperity built on a dotcom bubble or a housing bubble is highly deceptive, because under the guise of broad prosperity, wealth may be increasing for a few and declining for most. What appears on paper as wealth becomes a means of massive wealth transfer. When the bubble pops, the paper wealth is gone for those who did not get their payoff early. The collapse of paper wealth then sets the entire economy into a downward spiral, and the workers are the ones who lose their jobs, their health insurance, their retirement pensions, and their opportunities. Whatever debts they have incurred, based on the assumption of steady income, become impossible to pay off. Then, they lose their homes.

Brooks does not focus his attention on these issues of financial management and speculation which created the conditions for a crash. Baker points out that he grasps after a cause rooted in the workers.

For decades, men have adapted poorly to the shifting demands of the service economy. Now they are paying the price. For decades, the working-class social fabric has been fraying. Now the working class is in danger of descending into underclass-style dysfunction.

I guess this is how many people believe it all works. Family farmers lost their farms because they adapted poorly to the shifting demands of the monopolistic practices of agribusiness (subsidized by government). U.S. industries laid off their workers and shut down because they adapted poorly to the shifting demands of sweatshop industry and wages of desperation. Now working men are to blame for adapting poorly to an economy in which financial experts played fast and loose with their fiduciary responsibilities toward the common good. And now that they are so stupidly unemployed because of their moral failures, they will begin destroying their families.

John Stossel gets on the bandwagon by blaming California's bankruptcy on labor contracts which provide pensions for retired workers, a system set up to be self-perpetuating. This has been the trend of the past decade: to see that the money set aside for pensions could become money in the hands of overpaid executives and stockholders bent on short-term gain. So Stossel lets the critics of labor win the day as they pretend that workers' retirement pay is causing the economic crisis. How about blaming golden parachutes and bonuses for credit default swaps? Go back and get that money, not the money promised to people who put in three decades or more keeping the economy running.

I'll give Dean Baker the last word here.

Working class men are ill-prepared to deal with the effects of incredible economic mismanagement that has made them its primary victims. It has been conscious policy of David Brooks and his peers to weaken welfare state supports, making income and well-being almost entirely dependent on employment. Now, because David Brooks' highly-educated peers are incompetent economic managers, millions of working class people (disproportionately men) are facing extended periods of unemployment.

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