Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Revolt of the Few and the Abdication of the Many Has Brought About the Collapse of the Middle Class in America

Years ago, in his book, The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy, Christopher Lasch foresaw the diverging interests of the corporate executive class and the shareholders they serve with the rest of America.

In short, the rise of Information and Communications Technology made it possible to increase profits by transferring production off shore and then importing the finished products back into the US market. At the same time, finance rather than manufacturing generated higher profit margins so that a company like General Electric, long a symbol of American manufacturing might, could generate more revenue from its off shore operations and, in particular, from its financial sector, than from building and selling stuff in the USA.

In this brave new world, there is no connection between Wall Street and Main Street. Instead, the elites of the transnational, global marketplace flitter back and forth between a host of global cities like New York, London, Paris, Singapore, Shanghai, and the like, in their eternal pursuit of the next big thing. The world is their oyster and the common folk are there to be shucked.

In many ways, there is nothing new in this turn of events. After all, as F. Scott Fitzgerald aptly wrote, "Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me."

But what seems to be unique in the last thirty years is the manner in which the many, those university-educated members of the top 10%, abdicated from their social responsibility to mediate between the rapacious desires of the few and the needs of the multitude or the demos.

It as though they gave their blessing to the breaking of the Fordist social contract so they too could binge out on a splurge of conspicuous consumption. No one needed to wait for Alan Greenspan's admission that there was a flaw in his ideology to know that markets are not infallible and that left to their own are subject to collapse.

But standing up for the little guy takes time and energy and with all those payments to make who has the time?

Perhaps, the most glaring example of turning away from a harsh reality in order to embrace the latest in urban chic is America's love affair with Apple.

Americans love their iPads, iPods, iPhones, and iTunes. Can't get enough of them even though Apple is the poster child of the iEconomy, an economy where it takes a permanent underclass (46 million Americans live off food stamps) so that luxury can be affordable to what remains of the middle class.

Apple has a capitalization of approximately 600 billion dollars and is sitting on about one hundred billion dollars in liquid assets. Yet, at the same time it produces its swag using a number of work camps, many of them in China, run by Foxconn. Moreover, when it comes to retail, their sales associates make on average $ 25,000 per annum, which lands them squarely amongst the ranks of the working poor, while their tech people, euphemistically referred to as Geniuses, toil away for a measly $40,000 a year, a paltry salary surely indicative of someone who doesn't know their worth.

You would think that the world's richest company could afford to pay their workers a decent wage.

But ain't that America, little pink houses for you and me.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

More Than Ever America Needs to be Coherent in Its Electoral Response

Well America, taking a look at the recent stats concerning wage growth or the lack thereof and the stunning drop in the net worth of the vast majority of Americans, I think that it goes without saying that you have been screwed royally.

Between 2005 and 2010, the median wage dropped by 7% and on average people lost about a third of their net worth. During the same period, corporate profits soared; executive pay went through the roof; and you got stuck paying the bill for the biggest public bailout in history.

Come November, you are faced with a choice. Would you like to begin to repair the catastrophic damage that free market economics inflicted upon your collective well-being or would you like the situation to get even worse for the majority of Americans?

The choice is clear.

Either you re-elect Obama and give the Democrats majority control in Congress or you, your children and their children will pay the consequences.

After what you've been through, it seems to me that it would be inconceivable to elect Romney, a predatory capitalist if ever there was one, and to allow the Republicans to continue with their grotesque masquerade of protecting the public's interest in Congress.

Hey, to those of us looking in from the outside, it's obvious that you're stuck in an abusive relationship with a political party that knows how to push your buttons so that you make totally irrational decisions that are incredibly self-destructive.

But there is a way out. You can leave this destructive relationship behind by hauling your sorry asses to the polling station in sufficient numbers and voting in a manner that says fuck you to the Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to spend unlimited, undisclosed amounts of money in favor of those candidates that advance corporate interests at your expense.

Come on America, this is a historic occasion.

Given the entrenched power that the corporate plutocracy wields in America and the separation of powers within your system of governance, nothing less than a completely coherent response that is a clear repudiation of the socio-economic scam that has been played upon you is required.

Like the French recently figured out, give your President the tools he needs to get the job done.

Monday, June 18, 2012

With Upcoming Elections in Quebec, These Are My Choices. What Would You Do?

Democratically speaking, Canada is a third world country. Case in point, the upcoming general election in Quebec and my fairy tale constitutional right to effective representation and meaningful participation in the electoral process.

In our crown-in-parliament political system, elections must be held before the end of a five-year term. It is, of course, the royal prerogative of the Premier of Quebec to decide when. For all their bitching about everything British, les Québécois steadfastly hang onto the Westminster parliamentary system. Elsewhere in the Dominion elections are held on fixed dates. But not here.

Sorry, I digress.

For more than fifty years, either the Liberals or the Parti Quebecois form a government. It's one or the other. No exceptions. So where does that leave me?

Between a rock and a hard place!

I can't vote for the Liberals since a vote for them would be to endorse the most corrupt and inept government I've ever had this misfortune to live under. Likewise, to vote for the Part Québécois would be an endorsement of ethnic nationalism. I could vote for a third party candidate that has a snowball's chance in hell of winning, but what's the point, my vote is completely wasted, unless you call the consolation prize for losers, the 75 cent per vote state subsidy, a sufficient reason for going to the polls.

Fuck that! It insults my intelligence that each vote cast generates income for a political party, meaning that each vote is effective financially and carries equal weight, but when it comes to representation, I'm shit out of luck if I vote for a losing candidate. In other words, the political parties created an effective fund raising mechanism to help finance their activities at tax payer's expense based on the aggregation of votes, but when it comes to granting representation, it's a winner-take-all proposition in each electoral district.

What's up with that?

In what is surely a perversion of the concept of the constitutional right to effective representation, each political party is effectively represented in the financial scheme, but as a citizen, like hundreds of thousands like me, I am denied effective representation because I don't live in close proximity to a sufficiently large number of fellow citizens who share my political preferences.

To put this in perspective, one of my female colleagues at work voted in the last Tunisian election for the first time in her life, and her vote was not wasted even if she cast it in Canada. Tunisia uses a proportional voting system so all the votes are used in determining the distribution of seats, and my colleague is effectively represented even though she lives thousands of miles away.

Evidently, Tunisia has cast off its colonial status while Canada and Quebec cling to their colonial past, yet we consider Tunisia to be stuck in the third world.

Returning to my dilemma as a disenfranchised voter, I seem to have several options: I could abstain from voting; I could spoil my ballot by writing none of the above; I could try walking out of the polling station with my ballot in hand saying that I am withdrawing it from a unjust electoral process; I could try swapping my vote with someone from another electoral district where my vote had a greater chance of being effective; I could vote my wife's voting intentions; or I could move to a country that uses a proportional voting system.

These are my choices. What would you do?

Monday, June 4, 2012

The End of the University as We Know It?

The hallowed halls of learning are no longer the place they used to be, exclusive enclaves of learning that allowed those fortunate enough to attend to gain the skill sets and make the social contacts to climb the social hierarchy.

In short, maintaining bricks and mortar institutions, tenured faculty, and financially exploitive publishing practices to deliver post-secondary education is economically inefficient and cannot compete with the Internet delivery model.

Throughout the centuries, universities have grown around a physically situated knowledge repository known as a library. It made sense to locate professors, researchers, and students in close proximity to the information resources. Moreover, these cathedrals of knowledge could charge exorbitant fees to students desirous of securing their futures, which in turn allowed them to expand.

As post-secondary education became part of the post war, publicly-funded panoply of social services offered to the population at large, enrollment in universities sky-rocketed. Universal accessibility became the mark of a developed country.

However, thirty plus years of neoliberal politics has brought the existing university business model to a precipice. Even with generous student aid programs in place, the cost of maintaining traditional universities has outstripped the state's capacity to guarantee universal access to post-secondary education.

The return to the user-payer model of university access is effectively reducing the numbers of lower and lower middle class students who can afford to attend university, especially when current economic conditions make it very difficult for recent graduates to find employment that generates sufficient income to repay their student loans.

Rather than accepting entry into a wage slave existence, increasing numbers of potential university students are deciding that they simply cannot afford to attend a traditional university.

Fortunately, their future need not be bleak.

In a wired world, higher education can be delivered to millions at a fraction of a cost as compared to the tradition model.

For example, Stanford's recent experiment in delivering an undergraduate course on artificial intelligence simultaneously to the 200 Stanford university students on campus and to approximately 100,000 students on line demonstrated that advances in information and communications technology make the traditional practice of bringing together a group of students in a lecture hall to hear the words to wisdom delivered by a professor appear quaint.

What remains to be done is to develop an appropriate certification process that recognizes that courses delivered via the Internet possesses the same intrinsic value of those delivered in the hallowed halls. MIT and Harvard are working together to address this need.

In my opinion, what's missing in the debate surrounding the increase in student fees in Quebec and the rising levels of student debt in the US is the notion that affordable university education can be delivered to those who desire it if the university business model is altered to take greater advantage of the economies of scale that the Internet offers.

But this means a large scale re-engineering of the present model, which will likely mean the loss of a great number of teaching positions as more and more courses migrate to the Web and an end to the lucrative business of academic publishing in favor of open access models.

Imagine being able to choose courses for credit from renown universities like Harvard, Yale, MIT, Stanford, the London School of Economics, the Sorbonne and do the course work from the comfort of your home and the public library.

We have the technology. We just need the collective will.