“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Thursday, February 05, 2015

the ownership society - now with fifty percent more autism!

Rand Paul, who likes to rush in where even Palins fear to tread, has been mocked for this conjunction of “own” and children. Or I should say some have mocked it, while most have let it pass as mere flotsam on the ocean of cretinism in which we all, as Americans, daily float.
However, the word “own” there is doing so much business, stands out so much like a sore thumb, or maybe a freakish fist of sore thumbs, that I have to buzz around it and find a place to bite, like a mosquito whose maxillary palp organs have been rubbed the right way by the delicious aroma of human sweat gland.
One of the many recent bits marked down for deletion in the collective American memory was the glorious slogan, “ownership society”, under which so many financial products were deregulated in the interest of the common man.  Here’s a bit of a flashback from a site run by a rightwing aparatchik named Jim Glassman (who I happened to work for when I was in college, and before he took his jackassery to new levels):
“The greatest political and demographic shift over the past twenty years was not the number of new Spanish speaking residents, but rather the number of individuals who owned shares of stock. In the 1996 elections, pundits spoke of soccer moms as the key demographic. This time around, the 2004 elections will be decided by America's growing investor class.
With this in mind, President Bush spoke directly to the burgeoning investor class at the Republican National Convention by announcing his vision for America becoming an "ownership society." Bush's speech called for a new paradigm in which government policies empower, not inhibit, individuals, so that each person has more choices and control over his healthcare and retirement. Included in the vision are Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), Lifetime and Retirement Savings Accounts (LSAs/RSAs), Comp/Flex time, and Social Security Personal Retirement Accounts (PRAs). All of these plans have one important theme in common: individual ownership.”

We all like to remember that George Bush was elected in 2000 while losing the popular vote, and we all like to forget that he was authentically elected (no Supreme Court helping) by a healthy margin in 2004. What’s more, he told us exactly what he was going to do.
What did ownership mean? Well, for those of us who combine Marx’s notion that ideology has the quality of reversing the true arrangement of social relations with St. Paul’s maxim that we must read what happens in the World as in a mirror, the meaning was obvious: the ownership society was about appropriating the few assets of the wage class and replacing them with debt. This is exactly what happened. In contrast to Glassman’s claim, the bottom 80 percent of the income scale owns approximately 5 percent of the financial wealth, according to Wolff, an economist who specializes in the composition of wealth in America. In 2007, the median household had assets of around 150 thousand dollars, of which the vast majority, 100, 000 dollars, was invested in a house. Ah, the house! That centerpiece of the ownership society. In 1989, the collected debt of the average household equaled 89 percent of average income – and by 2007, it equaled 141 percent. Now this kind of trend, if put in another situation, say the Soviet Union, would show the total level of expropriation had gone sky high – but in the United States, ownership means that your percentage of what you really own goes sliding merrily down the slope, as you vote for your creditors to turn the screws and call it – freedom.
This, of course, is one shot at the prize of understanding the metastasis of ownership in the American discourse. The idea that the most private and intimate relationship between two humans is one of ownership extends well beyond this, of course. It is a recent and alarming development in public craziness – a severe form of social autism, which is, coincidentally, one of the fears that drives the anti-vaxxers. We watch the social norm become autistic, and we naturally grow fearful for our children – even as we work, in every way, to normalize that autistic way of thinking and speaking.
There’s so much more to say! I’ll stop, here. I apologize for the paradox mongering, which is as easy as skipping stones, I gotta admit. But fun!

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