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April 11, 2003
The American Dream

Note: I always feel as though I should apologize for these long, half thought-out rants, but then the reassuring thought occurs to me that this is not a class assignment, no one has to read any of it if they don't want to, and Dave Barry is still blogging for those who are looking for entertainment.

The New American Dream

It is time for a change. The market crash, the ensuing recession, the worsening societal inequality--these are not normal cyclical downturns or growing pains. We are in a crucial transitional stage. The nature of our economy is changing; the nature of what people want from our economy is changing. A whole new system for creating wealth is taking shape, a new kind of capitalism that is powerful and full of promise, but far from fully formed. Yet neither party is proposing measures that might help it along because neither appears to grasp what's going on.
Finally. It's about time someone said this. (Okay, lots of people are saying this, but another voice added to the discussion is always good. And there's some fascinating stuff in this article.)
Yet both parties disregard these dynamics and put forth "old economy" solutions: tax cuts, financial incentives, and fiscal pump-priming, along with financial safety nets, tariffs, and other favors to protect big firms. I've seen similar measures fail in nearly 20 years of research on state and local economic development. Desperate to keep firms and industries, and to lure new ones, many cities and regions bled themselves with tax cuts, building projects, and other costly incentives. To uphold their sinking "major league" status, many squandered scarce public funds on dramatic gestures like new stadiums, which diverted the public's attention but added little or nothing to their region's creative capacity. The result was counterproductive: Existing firms and industries downsized their payrolls anyway, while growth flourished in places like the San Francisco Bay Area and Boston, which actually had higher costs but better creative climates. Today we are reprising this flawed strategy at the national level. The real key to driving the economy forward and "completing" our emergent creative system doesn't lie in financial incentives alone but in summoning innovation--human creativity.
I could quote the whole article, but instead I'll let you go read it.

Go on. I'll wait.

Back? Good.

My point, which I want to add to this article, is that what's needed today isn't going to be provided by the party currently in power. I know, that's rather a bold statement and certainly Florida didn't suggest any such thing, but I believe that the right-wing Conservatives currently in the White House are intrinsically inimical to the kind of culture Florida is discussing.

Most people, including those on the lowest rungs, have a bigger vision, and it isn't "the chance to get rich," the line Reagan once borrowed from Lincoln. It's Jefferson's idea: the pursuit of happiness. The dream is to reap intrinsic rewards from our work rather than merely be "compensated" for the time and effort we put in.
A key concept here, and one that Florida overlooks, is freedom. People aren't bailing on factory jobs in favor of becoming hair stylists entirely because of "creativity" or "happiness," okay? Well, okay, happiness. But not just creativity-fueled happiness. They're in search of freedom-fueled happiness. (Creativity doesn’t come without freedom, and I consider freedom the "larger" concept.) They want to cut the 9-5 shackles of the factory floor or the cubicle farm and structure their lives, and their time, to suit themselves.

Why stay in a 9-5 job waiting for the next round of layoffs so that your corporation can move your job to an underdeveloped country, give the CEO a multi-million dollar bonus, and add fifty cents to the retail cost of the product to cover "moving expenses"? Why put up with a supervisor keeping an eagle-eye on the time-clock and sending you to the principle's office for showing up sixty seconds later than the Officially Approved Start Moment?

Hey, the corporations started it, okay?

They're the ones who started with the downsizing and the making people do the work or two or three employees and the whining about shrinking profits preventing them from paying workers a living wage and then paying the CEO's millions upon millions of dollars, even in years when profits really did shrink and creative accounting that meant some corporations went belly-up, sucking down the pension hopes of thousands of workers.

So, the USofA workers are turning their backs on the American...excuse me...Multinational Corporation, and it serves the MultCorp right. There's more to life than hanging on to a dead-end job by sheer white-knuckled determination.

In short, we're tired of you and we don't want any, thanks.

And, to get back to my point, the increase in freedom, in the pursuit of happiness, and in creativity, is going to bring a Liberal majority back into power. Because, no offense, creativity and the rights and abilities of the individual as just not what the Conservatives are all about.

They're about stasis, conformity, obedience, and the status quo. The only changes they approve of are the ones making government smaller (well, in theory, although it doesn't work that way under Bush) and eliminating taxes on corporations and the wealthy.* That's what "Conservative" means. It's about things not changing. (That's an oversimplification, I know.)

(*Teeny side rant – At the point where the U.S. Supreme Court inexplicably ruled that a corporation was a "person" under the law and entitled to all of the same rights, someone should have thought to start enforcing that concept 100 percent. So that, for example, corporations would be subject to the exact, same tax laws as every other individual in the country. Heh.)

Conservative agendas don't foster individual creativity, okay? They're good for big corporations, of course. Especially the smaller government thing.

If you have a smaller government, it helps to have fewer laws they need to enforce. If you can get rid of those pesky anti-trust laws, for instance, you could save a lot of government time and money. And those annoying environmental protection laws. Those, if properly enforced, would suck up a lot of government resources. Better get rid of those, too.

(Bush is working on these and other items, even as we speak.)

(Well, no, he's not, because it's Friday and I don't think he's missed spending a weekend in Camp David since he was appointed to office, except when he was on vacation somewhere else. But Cheney's probably got a memo out.)

Conservatives want to roll back the clock on dozens of pieces of legislation enacted over the past two or three decades. It's not enough to maintain the status quo, a lot of these people haven't yet come to grips with changes made twenty or thirty years ago, and they'd just as soon those changes could be erased, thankyouverymuch.

The Right isn't about individual freedom. They're not happy with many of the freedoms guaranteed by law in this country and, as we've all seen over the past few months, they're working hard to get a lot of them tossed out. Abortion, gay rights, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, little things like those. The version of Conservative in power today think it's a darned good idea that we should trade a few Constitutional freedoms in for a more ordered, more "secure" society. (I think they'd be happier if they were dealing with a more lockstep kind of mentality, like the ones that tend to make up their own voter base.)

You don't hear many Liberals calling for a more ordered society. It's the sort of thing that can stifle creativity.

Liberals don't tend to organize around repressive movements, either.

'Spiritual warfare' looms

Washington is trying to portray its battle as one of liberation, not conquest, but Iraq is about to be invaded by thousands of U.S. evangelical missionaries who say they are bent on a "spiritual warfare" campaign to convert the country's Muslims to Christianity.
Admittedly the article is a trifle sensational and not all of these people see their primary mission in Iraq as converting the heathens, but the younger Mr. Graham, head of the Southern Baptist Convention, " has made it clear that the conversion of Muslims to Christianity is a goal for his volunteers."

I'm just saying, okay? You don't catch 25,000 Liberals shipping themselves en mass to another country to explain how people ought to worship whatever deity they worship.

In one major project, Baptist families have been asked to put together "gift of love" food boxes designed to provide a month's worth of basic nourishment to a family of five. "Please do not place any additional items/literature inside the box," the families are told. Mr. Porter, who runs the program, explained that this is to prevent them from being seen as missionary packages.

However, on the outside of each box will be a label bearing an Arabic translation of John 1:17: "For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ."

Should I be giving them credit for getting half a clue or a huge demerit for choosing one of the most obnoxious quotations they could find?

I'm not dissing religion, okay? Anyone's religion. I'm just saying. This is not an example of religious tolerance, which I think any conscientious person should practice both in and outside their country's borders. I think you should believe in what you believe in. If these people really believed in religious tolerance, they'd necessarily have to support it both here and abroad, don't you think?

Religious intolerance in the USofA isn't an anomaly. It's a significant Conservative movement.

(Okay, forget what I said. I am dissing religion, okay? I'm sick of hearing about the wars fought worldwide over a difference in supernatural beliefs. It's bad enough when people fight over something real like land or human rights or something. When they start killing each other over vaguely understood extracts from badly translated mythological texts, it's criminal. I say we ask the U.N. to put an international ban on any religion that's used as an excuse to kill someone. Of course, I also want to ban tailgating, so I accept that I tend to be radical sometimes.)

I know, I'm getting sidetracked. I usually do.

No more about religion. Back to the "new creativity" and the changes Florida sees coming in the economy.

These aren't, as he seems to imply, forces that can be harnessed by either of the current parties. The Republican party, by nature of what it is, cannot encourage and foster this new movement. I'm not saying Republicans are intrinsically evil or that they're against The People. I'm saying that they've let themselves be taken over by what used to be an extremist faction and that until they clean their house, they're not in a position to deal with a radical shift in the foundation of our economy. As long as they're led by men who think bringing "democracy" to Iraq means installing a foundation of corporate economic power, the Republican party will, in my eyes, remain a force for evil.)

The Democratic party, if it returns to its Liberal base, can harness this power. Granted, they have a ways to go before they get back to what they should be.

(One day, very soon, I'm going to sit down and ferret out the voting records of the current Democratic candidates for nomination and figure out which one I trust the most...or distrust the least.)

The point is that most of us no longer look forward to becoming a cog in a corporate hamster wheel. The cubicle farm isn't the be-all and end-all of our existence. We're tired of the big corporations. Maybe we owe them a vote of thanks for cutting the cord and shaking us all out of our ruts, I don't know.

I do know that I agree with Florida's article. There's a New Dream in the USofA, and it has nothing to do with being a corporate clone.

There's more to life than work. Work is important. It helps define us and, at its best, can give us deep satisfaction. It's just that many of us have discovered that that satisfaction isn't going to come while we're surrounded by three walls built of acoustic fabric.

So...I look forward to seeing more and more people bail out on corporate life and opt for small businesses of their own. I look forward to the day, possibly not far off, when corporations export jobs to other countries because no one in the USofA will work under their conditions any more. In fact, I look forward to the day when those undeveloped countries also kick the conglomerates out because they've become developed and have decided that there's more to life than the hamster wheel of production. When the conglomerates have to dissolve into smaller parts in order to survive.

Ever-increasing levels of production are good for corporations, okay? They're not good for consumers. Beyond a certain point, consuming is a habit, not a need. (And I speak from experience, as a frequent shopper.)

Anyhow. I'm getting sidetracked again, I know. Back to the point.

People today want lives. They want freedom. They want time to pursue happiness, both on and off the job. They want neighborhoods and friends and leisure activities for themselves and their families. They want people to have health care. They want their neighbors and friends to have food on the table and roofs over their heads.

These are Liberal causes. They have nothing to do with Conservatives.

Conservatives, I'm sorry to say, generally tend to act as though the poor are poor because they deserve it and that collecting shekels is an end in itself. (I'm not a big believer in huge sums of inherited wealth. It doesn't seem to do the second generation any good to spend their lives living with that silver spoon in their nose mouth.)

Liberals tend to act, on the other hand, as though the poor are poor because someone else is hogging up all the money. That's too simplistic. Money is just how you keep score, I get that. What the poor need are real opportunities.

We need to teach people to fish, not make someone else give them a nice piece of cod for dinner. Taxes should be spent on aid programs that have a huge education component. Most of the poor are poor for lack of opportunity and knowledge. Those are things we can cure.

But that's not what Conservatives are about. That's what Liberals are about, okay? Providing opportunity.

Opportunities like affirmative action which, no matter what critics today say, opened the doors of universities and colleges for tens of thousands of hopeful, hardworking minority students.

It's our fault, okay? We can't really blame the Conservatives. We got lazy. We won a few battles, sighed in relief, and turned our attention to other things. Unfortunately, while we weren't watching, a chunk of the right-wing of the Right started moving in and taking over the playground.

I haven't read, The Emerging Democratic Majority yet, but I bought it, and my thought is that, when I do read it, I'm probably going to decide that the authors were just a little ahead of their time.

In the meantime, you should read this.

I'll bet you get pissed when you read all the way to the end of one of these rants and realize I didn't have an actual point, don't you?

Posted by AnneZook at 03:12 PM