more moyers: democracy and plutocracy don't mix

I found the preceding rtod post buried in Blogger drafts, something Allan saved there years ago. I never got around to posting it, but I never had the heart to delete it, either.

If you're not familiar with Bill Moyers, he is an American independent journalist, producer, and public intellectual. Earlier in his career, Moyers served as White House Press Secretary under the Johnson administration, but he's better known for the many shows he has produced and hosted on PBS.

Moyers has always been liberal, but over the past decade, he has become increasingly radicalized as he reacts to the excesses of endless war and unchecked capitalism. (That's my own observation. I've never heard Moyers describe himself as radicalized, and I doubt he would.)

The thing about Moyers is he rarely thinks or speaks in sound bites. To follow him, you must be willing to read or to listen at length. In that sense, he reaches a small minority. On the other hand, the more that minority - i.e., us - understands these issues, the stronger it becomes.

I encourage you to read or listen to the Moyers' 2010 Howard Zinn Lecture in its entirety. Moyers writes from a US context, but in our global economy, these ideas are relevant to everyone on the planet. Here's a good excerpt.

* * * *

Between 2001 and 2008, about 40,000 US manufacturing plants closed. Six million factory jobs have disappeared over the past dozen years, representing one in three manufacturing jobs.

. . . .

They found that from 1950 through 1980, the share of all income in America going to everyone but the rich increased from 64 percent to 65 percent. Because the nation’s economy was growing handsomely, the average income for 9 out of l0 Americans was growing, too – from $17,719 to $30,941. That’s a 75 percent increase in income in constant 2008 dollars.

But then it stopped. Since 1980 the economy has also continued to grow handsomely, but only a fraction at the top have benefited. The line flattens for the bottom 90% of Americans. Average income went from that $30,941 in 1980 to $31,244 in 2008. Think about that: the average income of Americans increased just $303 dollars in 28 years.

. . . . .

Matt Krantz reports in USA TODAY that "Cash is gushing into company’s coffers as they report what’s shaping up to be a third-consecutive quarter of sharp earning increases. But instead of spending on the typical things, such as expanding and hiring people, companies are mostly pocketing the money or stuffing it under their mattresses." And what are their plans for this money? Again, the Washington Post:
Sitting on these unprecedented levels of cash, U.S. companies are buying back their own stock in droves. So far this year, firms have announced they will purchase $273 billion of their own shares, more than five times as much compared with this time last year… But the rise in buybacks signals that many companies are still hesitant to spend their cash on the job-generating activities that could produce economic growth.
That’s how financial capitalism works today: Conserving cash rather than bolstering hiring and production; investing in their own shares to prop up their share prices and make their stock more attractive to Wall Street. To hell with everyone else.

Hear the chief economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Ethan Harris, who told the Times:
There’s no question that there is an income shift going on in the economy. Companies are squeezing their labor costs to build profits.
Or the chief economist for Credit Suisse in New York, Neal Soss:
As companies have wrung more savings out of their work forces, causing wages and salaries barely to budge from recession lows, “profits have staged a vigorous recovery, jumping 40 percent between late 2008 and the first quarter of 2010.”
Just this morning the New York Times reports that the private equity business is roaring back:
While it remains difficult to get a mortgage to buy a home or to get a loan to fund a small business, yield-starved investors are creating a robust market for corporate bonds and loans.
Now, most people know what plutocracy is: the rule of the rich, political power controlled by the wealthy. Plutocracy is not an American word and wasn’t meant to become an American phenomenon – some of our founders deplored what they called “the veneration of wealth.” But plutocracy is here, and a pumped up Citigroup even boasted of coining a variation on the word— “plutonomy”, which describes an economic system where the privileged few make sure the rich get richer and that government helps them do it. Five years ago Citigroup decided the time had come to “bang the drum on plutonomy.”

And bang they did. Here are some excerpts from the document “Revisiting Plutonomy;”
Asset booms, a rising profit share and favorable treatment by market-friendly governments have allowed the rich to prosper… [and] take an increasing share of income and wealth over the last 20 years. . . .

…the top 10%, particularly the top 1% of the United States – the plutonomists in our parlance – have benefitted disproportionately from the recent productivity surged in the US… [and] from globalization and the productivity boom, at the relative expense of labor.” . . . 
… [and they] are likely to get even wealthier in the coming years. Because the dynamics of plutonomy are still intact.
I’ll repeat that: “The dynamics of plutonomy are still intact.” That was the case before the Great Collapse of 2008, and it’s the case today, two years after the catastrophe. But the plutonomists are doing just fine. Even better in some cases, thanks to our bailout of the big banks.

As for the rest of the country: Listen to this summary in The Economist – no Marxist journal – of a study by Pew Research:
More than half of all workers today have experienced a spell of unemployment, taken a cut in pay or hours or been forced to go part-time. The typical unemployed worker has been jobless for nearly six months. Collapsing share and house prices have destroyed a fifth of the wealth of the average household. Nearly six in ten Americans have cancelled or cut back on holidays. About a fifth say their mortgages are underwater. One in four of those between 18 and 29 have moved back in with their parents. Fewer than half of all adults expect their children to have a higher standard of living than theirs, and more than a quarter say it will be lower. For many Americans the great recession has been the sharpest trauma since The Second World War, wiping out jobs, wealth and hope itself.
Let that sink in: For millions of garden-variety Americans, the audacity of hope has been replaced by a paucity of hope.

Time for a confession. The legendary correspondent Edward R. Murrow told his generation of journalists that bias is okay as long as you don’t try to hide it. Here is mine: Plutocracy and democracy don’t mix. Plutocracy too long tolerated leaves democracy on the auction block, subject to the highest bidder.

[Read the lecture here.]

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