Jan 17, 2014

Greed, For Lack of a Better Word...

commentary by killre

One of the major pitfalls to having both a DVR and an on-again/off-again interest in politics, economics, demographics and a few other icky things I've suddenly lost the desire to list is that every now and now and then and then some item masquerading as news sits there slow-cooking in its glitchy stew of 1s and 0s long enough for the new to get old by the time my stomach is settled enough to consume it.  Such is the case with a recorded package aired Tuesday afternoon on the Fox News Channel.  Produced and edited, at least partly, by correspondent Doug McKelway, it was a brief breakdown of the issue of income inequality, which is set to become one of the planks you can expect politicians to use to give each other the Nancy Kerrigan treatment in this year's congressional races.

McKelway kicks off the package by saying, "Income inequality has been on President Obama's agenda ever since Joe the Plumber raised the issue in 2000 and 8."

Actually, Doug, the issue was on Barack Obama's agenda before then.  Its presence on his agenda, in fact, is precisely what prompted Samuel J. "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher to start asking what turned out to be --as much to his own surprise as anyone else's-- hypothetical questions.

The McKelway package then proceeded to pirate a cropped clip from a Fox Business News montage of an uncredited correspondent conducting man-on-the-street interviews-- always an easy way to fill a programming block without actually having to do one's job.  In it, as in all such pieces, the so-called reporter accosts unwitting citizens and slaps them in the face with a patently unnuanced question.  The answer then given has a 98.6% chance of being just as unnuanced, if not more so, which 98.6% of the time is the secondary goal of the operation.  Sometimes the clumsy response is because the person doesn't truly understand the topic; other times it is simply that they didn't have the benefit of knowing what the topic was before the bright lights were unleashed on them-- a benefit the reporter, cameraman, producer, director, anchor and you and I, the viewers, all have.  In this case the question was, "Does it bother you that some CEOs make millions, when their workers don't?"

Let me take a stab at this: No, it doesn't bother me that some CEOs make millions while their workers don't.  What bothers me is that some CEOs are making so many obscene millions, while their workers are barely making enough to scrape by.  If a company or a corporation has a particularly profitable fiscal year, and the CEO truly plays a role in that, then by all means he or she should get a bump or a bonus.  Virtually everybody in that company played some role in its success, however, and should reap some share of the windfall.  Instead, the people at the top get all the cream, and the people at the bottom are expected to keep plugging along on the same relative pittance as before-- that, you appliance salesman with a microphone, is what is meant by "income inequality."

Later in the package, McKelway steps out of his reporter's role to editorialize, "...that's how capitalism rewards and punishes: some people are better, smarter, harder-working, or luckier than others."

Well, at least he included luck in the equation.  His implication, though, is that if luck [urinates] all over some people, the rest of us should [urinate] on them, too.  Hardly the foundation of a great society.

All this was leading to a number of quotes from Michael Tanner, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute to whom McKelway was going to give the last word.  The Cato Institute is a libertarian think-tank originally founded by one of the Koch brothers, the modern-day, real-life answers to Scrooge and Marley without the benefits of either a paranormally prodded epiphany (I told you it was a word) or that great equalizer, death.

If you don't mind, I'll split the Tanner quotes so as to deal with each in turn.  First, Tanner opined, "Nobody in America is poor just because someone else is rich."

Technically, this statement is true... if only for its inclusion of two words.  The first word is just.  In this context, just is a qualifier-- a simplifier, if you will.  Simply, in fact, is one of the synonyms Tanner could have chosen.  Merely is another; or only.  "Nobody in America is poor only because someone else is rich."  In other words: There are many reasons why someone in America might be poor; the fact that someone else is rich is only one of those reasons.

Admittedly, this reworking doesn't quite get to the heart of the matter.  That's because of the inclusion of a second word: rich.  As I alluded above, rich misses the mark.  If this were a game of darts, rich would bypass the board and bury itself in the biceps of the bi-dimensional, beer-mongering, bikinied babe brightening the wall three feet to the left.  Instead of rich, the word should be greedy, as in: There are many reasons why someone in America might be poor, and one of those reasons is that someone else is insanely greedy.

Tanner then said, "In fact, consider: if you were to double everybody's income in America, you would do great things for the poor, but you would also increase inequality."

Huh?  Wait.  Maybe this happened while my news cravings were in one of their off-again phases, but when the hellfire did anyone propose doubling everybody's income?  For that matter, when did they propose doubling anybody's income?  Now we know why Tanner is referred to as a senior fellow and not an economist.  Can you say "inflation," boys and girls?

No, what causes consternation for capitalists and conservatives is that Barack Obama and his Democratic colleagues in Congress would like --oh yes, I'll say it because they can't without being symbolically piked-- they would like to take some of the filthy lucre that some of the most obscenely greedy [obscenities] keep greedily giving themselves and award it instead to people who actually need it.  In thirteenth- or fourteenth-century Britain, this was called robbing from the rich and giving to the poor.  It was a popular idea-- so popular, in fact, that in the intervening centuries millions of people from all over the world have flocked to America to... anyone? anyone?... to escape income inequality.  Your own political prejudices will determine whether you see Obama as a latter-day Robin Hood with a good jumpshot or as an updated Eugene V. Debs with a lot of political luck and an all-over tan, but that's his agenda: making America a society where more people can escape the worst of income inequality.

McKelway edited Tanner to conclude: "The academic literature is very solid on what it takes to stay out of poverty.  Number one: graduate [from] school.  Number two: if you're not married, don't have a baby.  Number three: get a job --even a minimum-wage, entry-level job-- and stick with it."

I guess it all depends somewhat on your definition of poverty, but sticking with a minimum-wage job is, by necessity, what many people are already doing... and the gap just keeps gettin' bigger.

P.S.... Dan "It Is Not My Fault That You Don't Know Who Eugene V. Debs Is" Hicks must go.

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