Unnecessariat

I remember AIDS. I’m older than you probably think I am, and I remember what AIDS in America meant in the eighties, when William F. Buckley suggested all “carriers” be tattooed, and the Wizard of Id got in trouble in Canada (fr) for a joke in which Robbing Hood’s “Merry Men” were rounded up into quarantine camps. Mostly what I remember is the darkness- the world seemed apocalyptic. Everyone, at least in the gay men’s community, seemed to be sick, or dying, or taking care of someone else who was sick or dying, or else hurling themselves headlong into increasingly desperate and dramatic activism the like of which has hardly been seen since. I was actually watching the MacNeil/Lehrer news hour when ACT-UP broke in and nearly handcuffed Robert MacNeil to his desk. The tenor is just unreproducible; you get a taste of it in some of Sarah Schulman’s fiction, or Diamanda Galas’ Plague Mass, but it didn’t feel like a disease, it was an… unearthly detonation.

We forget this era now. If anything, people remember the Team America parody “Everyone Has AIDS!RENT came out in 1996, not coincidentally the peak of the epidemic was 1995, a year when the CDC reported 41,699 Americans died of AIDS. To put that in perspective, that’s about 70% of the number of Americans who died in all nineteen years of the Vietnam War combined. The first year for which statistics are available (1987) 13,329 Americans died, which is actually more in one year than the total number of deaths attributed to the West African Ebola outbreak from 2013 to the date of this writing (11,325).

Lets dwell on that date, 1987, for a moment. The first report of “a cellular-immune dysfunction related to a common exposure that predisposes individuals to opportunistic infections” was published in 1981. A year later, the term “AIDS” was coined, and a year after that, in 1983, HIV (known as HTLV-III or LAV) was isolated as the cause of AIDS. Four more years, however, went by before reliable death numbers are available [note: AmFAR has published estimates for every year since 1981]. Why? What was happening in that interim? Why was the initial official response only to scare, and not to inform people at risk? Why were AIDS information materials censored (or more properly defunded) if they did not simultaneously condemn homosexuality?

Good genetic analysis has identified the origins of the virus, and put to rest the conspiracy theories, both the plausible (an attractive, malicious airline steward, or poor sterilization of serum used in polio vaccine production) and the unlikely (biowarfare) but looking at the history, its clear where the theories came from. For much of the 80’s, AIDS was killing thousands of people every year, and the official government response seemed to be: Who cares? Let the fags die.

More Death and More Silence

Prince, apparently, overdosed. He’s hardly alone, just famous. After all, death rates are up and life expectancy is down for a lot of people and overdoses seem to be a big part of the problem. You can plausibly make numerical comparisons. Here’s AIDS deaths in the US from 1987 through 1997:

The number of overdoses in 2014? 47,055 of which at least 29,467 are attributable to opiates. The population is larger now, of course, but even the death rates are comparable. And rising. As with AIDS, families are being “hollowed out” with elders raising grandchildren, the intervening generation lost before their time. As with AIDS, neighborhoods are collapsing into the demands of dying, or of caring for the dying. This too is beginning to feel like a detonation.

There’s a second, related detonation to consider. Suicide is up as well. The two go together: some people commit suicide by overdose, and conversely addiction is a miserable experience that leads many addicts to end it rather than continue to be the people they recognize they’ve become to family and friends, but there’s a deeper connection as well. Both suicide and addiction speak to a larger question of despair. Despair, loneliness, and a search, either temporarily or permanently, for a way out.

Did I mention there’s a geographic dimension to this?

blog-suicide

drug-map

See any overlap? I do.

AIDS generated a response. Groups like GMHC and ACT-UP screamed against the dying of the light, almost before it was clear how much darkness was descending, but the gay men’s community in the 1970’s and 80’s was an actual community. They had bars, bathhouses, bookstores. They had landlords and carpools and support groups. They had urban meccas and rural oases. The word “community” is much abused now, used in journo-speak to mean “a group of people with one salient characteristic in common” like “banking community” or “jet-ski riding community” but the gay community at the time was the real deal: a dense network of reciprocal social and personal obligations and friendships, with second- and even third-degree connections given substantial heft. If you want a quick shorthand, your community is the set of people you could plausibly ask to watch your cat for a week, and the people they would in turn ask to come by and change the litterbox on the day they had to work late. There’s nothing like that for addicts, nor suicides, not now and not in the past, and in fact that’s part of the phenomenon I want to talk about here. This is a despair that sticks when there’s no-one around who cares about you.

The View From Here

Its no secret that I live right smack in the middle of all this, in the rusted-out part of the American midwest. My county is on both maps: rural, broke, disconsolated. Before it was heroin it was oxycontin, and before it was oxycontin it was meth. Death, and overdose death in particular, are how things go here.

I spent several months occasionally sitting in with the Medical Examiner and the working humour was, predictably, quite dark. A typical day would include three overdoses, one infant suffocated by an intoxicated parent sleeping on top of them, one suicide, and one other autopsy that could be anything from a tree-felling accident to a car wreck (this distribution reflects that not all bodies are autopsied, obviously.) You start to long for the car wrecks.

The workers would tell jokes. To get these jokes you have to know that toxicology results take weeks to come back, but autopsies are typically done within a few days of death, so generally the coroners don’t know what drugs are on board when they cut up a body. First joke: any body with more than two tattoos is an opiate overdose (tattoos are virtually universal in the rural midwest). Second joke: the student residents will never recognize a normal lung (opiates kill by stopping the brain’s signal to breathe; the result is that fluid backs up in the lungs creating a distinctive soggy mess, also seen when brain signalling is interrupted by other causes, like a broken neck). Another joke: any obituary under fifty years and under fifty words is drug overdose or suicide. Are you laughing yet?

And yet this isn’t seen as a crisis, except by statisticians and public health workers. Unlike the AIDS crisis, there’s no sense of oppressive doom over everyone. There is no overdose-death art. There are no musicals. There’s no community, rising up in anger, demanding someone bear witness to their grief. There’s no sympathy at all. The term of art in my part of the world is “dirtybutts.” Who cares? Let the dirtybutts die.

Facing the Unnecessariat

You probably missed this story about the death of a woman in Oklahoma from liver disease. Go read it. I’ll wait here until you come back. Here, in a quiet article about a quiet tragedy in a quiet place, is the future of America:

Goals receded into the distance while reality stretched on for day after day after exhausting day, until it was only natural to desire a little something beyond yourself. Maybe it was just some mindless TV or time on Facebook. Maybe a sleeping pill to ease you through the night. Maybe a prescription narcotic to numb the physical and psychological pain, or a trip to the Indian casino that you couldn’t really afford, or some marijuana, or meth, or the drug that had run strongest on both sides of her family for three generations and counting.

In 2011, economist Guy Standing coined the term “precariat” to refer to workers whose jobs were insecure, underpaid, and mobile, who had to engage in substantial “work for labor” to remain employed, whose survival could, at any time, be compromised by employers (who, for instance held their visas) and who therefore could do nothing to improve their lot. The term found favor in the Occupy movement, and was colloquially expanded to include not just farmworkers, contract workers, “gig” workers, but also unpaid interns, adjunct faculty, etc. Looking back from 2016, one pertinent characteristic seems obvious: no matter how tenuous, the precariat had jobs. The new dying Americans, the ones killing themselves on purpose or with drugs, don’t. Don’t, won’t, and know it.

Here’s the thing: from where I live, the world has drifted away. We aren’t precarious, we’re unnecessary. The money has gone to the top. The wages have gone to the top. The recovery has gone to the top. And what’s worst of all, everybody who matters seems basically pretty okay with that. The new bright sparks, cheerfully referred to as “Young Gods” believe themselves to be the honest winners in a new invent-or-die economy, and are busily planning to escape into space or acquire superpowers, and instead of worrying about this, the talking heads on TV tell you its all a good thing- don’t worry, the recession’s over and everything’s better now, and technology is TOTES AMAZEBALLS!

The Rent-Seeking Is Too Damn High

If there’s no economic plan for the Unnecessariat, there’s certainly an abundance for plans to extract value from them. No-one has the option to just make their own way and be left alone at it. It used to be that people were uninsured and if they got seriously sick they’d declare bankruptcy and lose the farm, but now they have a (mandatory) $1k/month plan with a $5k deductible: they’ll still declare bankruptcy and lose the farm if they get sick, but in the meantime they pay a shit-ton to the shareholders of United Healthcare, or Aetna, or whoever. This, like shifting the chronically jobless from “unemployed” to “disabled” is seen as a major improvement in status, at least on television.

Every four years some political ingenue decides that the solution to “poverty” is “retraining”: for the information economy, except that tech companies only hire Stanford grads, or for health care, except that an abundance of sick people doesn’t translate into good jobs for nurses’ aides, or nowadays for “the trades” as if the world suffered a shortage of plumbers. The retraining programs come and go, often mandated for recipients of EBT, but the accumulated tuition debt remains behind, payable to the banks that wouldn’t even look twice at a graduate’s resume. There is now a booming market in debtor’s prisons for unpaid bills, and as we saw in Ferguson the threat of jail is a great way to extract cash from the otherwise broke (thought it can backfire too). Eventually all those homes in Oklahoma, in Ohio, in Wyoming, will be lost in bankruptcy and made available for vacation homes, doomsteads, or hobby farms for the “real” Americans, the ones for whom the ads and special sections in the New York Times are relevant, and their current occupants know this. They are denizens, to use Standing’s term, in their own hometowns.

This is the world highlighted in those maps, brought to the fore by drug deaths and bullets to the brain- a world in which a significant part of the population has been rendered unnecessary, superfluous, a bit of a pain but not likely to last long. Utopians on the coasts occasionally feel obliged to dream up some scheme whereby the unnecessariat become useful again, but its crap and nobody ever holds them to it. If you even think about it for a minute, it becomes obvious: what if Sanders (or your political savior of choice) had won? Would that fix the Ohio river valley? Would it bring back Youngstown Sheet and Tube, or something comparable that could pay off a mortgage? Would it end the drug game in Appalachia, New England, and the  Great Plains? Would it call back the economic viability of small farms in Illinois, of ranching in Oklahoma and Kansas? Would it make a hardware store viable again in Iowa, or a bookstore in Nevada? Who even bothers to pretend anymore?

Well, I suppose you might. You’re probably reading this thinking: “I wouldn’t live like that.” Maybe you’re thinking “I wouldn’t overdose” or “I wouldn’t try heroin,” or maybe “I wouldn’t let my vicodin get so out of control I couldn’t afford it anymore” or “I wouldn’t accept opioid pain killers for my crushed arm.” Maybe you’re thinking “I wouldn’t have tried to clear the baler myself” or “I wouldn’t be pulling a 40-year-old baler with a cracked bearing so the tie-arm wobbles and jams” or “I wouldn’t accept a job that had a risk profile like that” or “I wouldn’t have been unemployed for six months” or basically something else that means “I wouldn’t ever let things change and get so that I was no longer in total control of my life.” And maybe you haven’t. Yet.

This isn’t the first time someone’s felt this way about the dying. In fact, many of the unnecessariat agree with you and blame themselves- that’s why they’re shooting drugs and not dynamiting the Google Barge. The bottom line, repeated just below the surface of every speech, is this: those people are in the way, and its all their fault. The world of self-driving cars and global outsourcing doesn’t want or need them. Someday it won’t want you either. They can either self-rescue with unicorns and rainbows or they can sell us their land and wait for death in an apartment somewhere. You’ll get there too.

In Sum, Despair is the Collapse of Forever into the Strain of Now

If I still don’t have your attention, consider this: county by county, where life expectancy is dropping survivors are voting for Trump.

What does it mean, to see the world’s narrative retreat into the distance? To know that nothing more is expected of you, or your children, or of your children’s children, than to fade away quietly and let some other heroes take their place? One thing it means is: if someone says something about it publicly, you’re sure as hell going to perk up and listen.

Guy Standing believed that the Precariat heralded a new age of xenophobic nationalism and reaction, but at the same time hoped that something like Occupy, that brought the precariat together as a self-conscious community, would lead to social and economic changes needed to ameliorate their plight. Actively. The gay community didn’t just roll over and ask nicely for recognition, they had their shit together enough that they could fight their way, literally, into the studios of one of the top news shows in America, into the US capitol, the UK parliament, into the streets of every major city at rush hour. AIDS galvanized them, but it was their mutual recognition as friends, allies, comrades-in-arms from years of fighting for urban space to hook up in that made that galvanic surge possible. The disease blew a hole in an entire generation and the survivors kept fighting. HAART attenuated the death rate, and the survivors kept fighting.

So far, the quiet misery of the unnecessariat has yet to spark its own characteristic explosion, but is it so hard to see the germ of it in Trump’s rallies? In the LaVoy Finicum memorials? Are we, and I don’t mean this rhetorically, on the verge of something as earth-shaking as ACT-UP?

On primary election day, I wrote the following to a professor friend (edited):

I am despising myself for a coward today. I stopped for gas on the way to the polls, and noticed a hole in the frame of the car that you could push a parrot through. Dammit, I can’t afford a new car, and I don’t know if I can afford a welded patch- I don’t even know what would be involved, since so much has to be stripped off before you can bring a torch near a car body. I was in a pretty bad state when I got to the polls.

Let me explain my conundrum: all democratic primaries are proportional, among candidates who get 15% or more of the votes. The republicans have a whole slew of delegate procedures, but ours is winner take all. [I could contribute one fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a delegate to Sanders, or help push Trump over the top.]

What’s the outcome here? Sanders isn’t going to win. He doesn’t have the delegates- hell, he doesn’t have the votes. Doesn’t have the support. Clinton is the democratic nominee, and frankly she’s favored to win in the general election, even though in a head-to-head she gets trounced by Cruz, Kasich, or Rubio. Right now she polls ahead of Trump, but Trump is the one factor in this race that could completely kick the whole thing over. What happens if Clinton wins? For me, nothing- nothing good anyway. I still can’t afford car repairs, I still have to buy medication in cash raised by selling hay bales. No, I didn’t bale them, I trucked them across the county. If you bale them yourself, you make money at it, but I just had some extras to unload. That’ll still be the shape of things in a Clinton presidency.

Lets be honest- Clinton doesn’t give a shit about me. When Clinton talks about people hurt by the economy, she means you: elite-educated white-collar people with obvious career tracks who are having trouble with their bills and their 401k plans. That’s who boomed under the last president Clinton, especially the 401ks. Me, or the three guys fighting two nights ago over the Township mowing contract, we’re nothing. Clinton doesn’t have an economic plan for us. Nobody has an economic plan for us. There is no economic plan for us, ever. We keep driving trucks around and keep the margins above gas money and maybe take an odd job here or there, but essentially, we’re history and nobody seems to mind saying so.

And let me be honest again- Trump doesn’t have an economic plan for me either. What Trump’s boys have for me is a noose- but that’s the choice I’m facing, a lifetime of grueling poverty, or apocalypse. Yeah I know, not fun and games- the shouts, the smashing glass, the headlights on the lawn, but what am I supposed to do, raise my kid to stay one step ahead of the inspectors and don’t, for the love of god, don’t ever miss a payment on your speeding ticket? A noose is something I know how to fight. A hole in the frame of my car is not. A lifetime of feeling that sense, that “ohhhh, shiiiiiit…” of recognition that another year will go by without any major change in the way of things, little misfortunes upon misfortunes… a lifetime of paying a grand a month to the same financial industry busily padding the 401k plans of cyclists in spandex, who declare a new era of prosperity in America? Who can find clarity, a sense of self, any kind of redemption in that world?

Fuck it. Give me the fascists, I’ll know where I stand…

But I went ahead and took a democratic ballot regardless. And voted for Sanders. And as long as chumps like me keep doing that, we’ll keep getting the Clintons we deserve.

I am of two minds. On the one hand, Trumpism is unspeakable. On the other hand the status quo is silence and death. I had hoped that Trump himself would collapse and the populist movement he unwittingly inspired would find some less terrifying (and less racist) organizing principle, but now that the nominees are essentially decided, that seems unlikely. For the unnecessariat, what is to be done?

Caveat #1: This blog post is talking about the AIDS epidemic in the US. AIDS is a global disease and has social and political ramifications far different in countries where poverty, rather than Teh Gay, is the defining stereotype of infection. Also, in the US deaths have declined since the introduction of HAART, a treatment package not available in most countries. There’s a lot more to say about AIDS, but this is the AIDS I remember from my own childhood.

Caveat #2: The increase in mortality and decrease in life expectancy is so far limited to white people, and much of this post is about white people. Rural white people. This has led to some rather disgusting spectacles, well-caricatured as politicians who were “tough on drugs” when it meant arresting black kids, but supportive of treatment and recovery when its white kids in the crosshairs. However, not to speak for black people, but I think the sense of being seen as unnecessary to the functioning of the country, and a speed-bump at best, is something that black Americans have experienced for years, and what’s changing is that (some) white people are joining them. Over at hipcrime they’re blaming automation, but in my experience in flyover country, white folks are predictably blaming everyone of color for their plight. That’s a bigger issue than I can talk about here, but in brief I disagree with (and hate) the argument that a white sense of economic disenfranchisement is somehow separable from a racial narrative. It isn’t. Rural white people, in my (ethnographic) experience, see their economic circumstances as a result of the rich/the government taking “their” stuff and giving it to the “undeserving,” which is as racially marked a definition as exists in the American vernacular. We can talk about this later.

Caveat #3: I don’t think discussions of “fascism” are useful here. I almost left Trump out entirely but that county-level link was too good to pass up.

Caveat #4: My professor friend wishes to clarify that he is a post-doc. Also, in addition to the frankly absurd odd jobs I do for money, I am still a graduate student. We can talk about this later too. And yes, I found a guy who could weld a patch on the frame, thought its still bent.

220 thoughts on “Unnecessariat

  1. Propaganda, a Midwest laborer in his own words says he’s worried about the hole in the frame of his car that he is using to haul hay? You don’t haul hay bales in a car, and anyone living outside of LA or New York, where the “fashionista” produce nothing and dictate culture, would know that a vehicle with and structural damage to it’s frame is not drivable, insurable, and untouchable to a mechanic

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    • Huh?

      “He”?

      Hauling hay in a car? Where does it say that? How would that even work?

      Structural damage to the frame is untouchable to a mechanic? Where do all the patch plates come from?

      I find this comment perplexing. “Propaganda” is usually a term used to refer to a lie mass-produced by a government to either proffer a better image of itself, or to convince people to do something they might not otherwise do. I don’t see how the US government would look better if people knew more about the geography of suicide (though I suppose some of those statistics *did* come from the CDC… HMMMMMM!) and other than hoping people carry naloxone squirters to stick up their friends noses I’m not sure I’ve advocated for any behavior in particular here. Ah well.

      Liked by 3 people

      • 1. Anne seems to be a lady. Why assume they are a “he”?
        2. The car had a hole and the bale was trucked. Don’t mix two separate things in your head?

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  4. Well described term. And yes, African Americans have been in that slot for years if not decades. I have often wondered what the 1% (or whatever we called them before) were thinking about how to get rid of the unnecessariat as it has been obvious for years that no real efforts to fix the economy were likely unless the entire ruling clique were removed by some exterminating angel.

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  15. I wish I had read this when I was in a better state of mind. I just read an article on “crush” videos, fetish videos in which small animals are tortured to death for the sick pleasure of the viewer. Then I read this and now the world seems like a terrible place to live. Fuck it. I will keep on living. Does anyone out there understand that it would be better to offer solutions once you have outlined the problem?

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  18. Y’know what? I JUST DON’T FUCKING CARE ANY MORE.

    The one thing these people want is something nobody can give them. They want a return to the days when small town residents could drop out of high school and still get a job in the furniture factory (or coal mine, or steel mill, or whatever) that employs everybody in town. Well y’know what? Those days are gone and they’re never coming back. EVER. And guess what: those of us in the cities with college degrees who work just as hard as rural Americans (and who have just as little control over the means of production) aren’t to blame. Nobody’s to blame. The economy has changed and that’s just the way it is. So adapt.

    Get a goddamned education. Oh, your local public schools are shitty? Well FUCK YOU, I guess you shouldn’t have voted for school committee candidates who insisted the top priority should be teaching Creationism and praying every morning instead of the school committee candidates who insisted the top priority should be setting up a computer lab. And FUCK YOU, I guess you shouldn’t have voted for members of Congress who promised to cut funding to the Federal Department of Education when that funding could have helped your community with grants to your local schools, all because “THOSE LIBERALS IN WASHINGTON want to take away our Creationism and school prayer.” And I guess you shouldn’t have voted for a governor and state legislature that promised to cut taxes for the rich, further reducing aid to your schools. And no, high school isn’t enough. GO TO COLLEGE. Oh, college is too expensive? Well FUCK YOU, there’s a candidate for president who wants to make it affordable for you and her political party even made that a central plank of their platform, BUT YOU HATE HER GUTS BECAUSE SHE USED THE WRONG EMAIL ACCOUNT and didn’t stay home and bake cookies.

    And what are you doing with that education once you have it? Well, you gotta go where the jobs are. Sorry, but that means moving to population centers. I certainly have sympathy for those who don’t want to leave the town their family’s been in for 150 years, but hey, we don’t always get what we want. Oh, you heard that cities are full of wicked people who don’t all go to church? Well FUCK YOU, that’s your problem if you despise having neighbors who aren’t all like you.

    Oh, the health insurance mandate is unaffordable? Well FUCK YOU, you had your chance to support Single Payer but “THAT’S TOO SOCIALIST PLUS WE’RE AGAINST ANYTHING THAT N____R IN THE WHITE HOUSE SUPPORTS.” Fine. But without Single Payer, the only way to get preexisting conditions covered is with a mandate. You made your choice, now shut up and live with it.

    I totally understand all the dynamics at work here and what these people are so enraged about. And I had more sympathy for them than they ever did for the minorities who were left behind in the inner cities when urban whites moved out to the suburbs. But I just don’t care any more, because it’s not true that there’s no options for these people. There are options, they just refuse to consider them because of their own cultural biases and hatred of anybody living a lifestyle unlike theirs. All they want is a return to the past and they lash out in rage at all the rest of us as if it’s our fault that it’s impossible.

    You think you people are the only ones who would like a return to the past? As a white collar professional, adjusted for inflation, I’m making about half the salary I would have made 60 years ago. In the past my income alone would be enough to buy a house, a car, and send two kids to college with my wife staying home to raise those kids when they’re little. But with today’s salaries and wages, both me and my wife have to work and my son will STILL have to take out college loans to get a degree. THE ECONOMY CHANGED. You don’t see me blaming you country folk for it, do you? Do you see me voting for a vulgar, foul-mouthed bully?

    Get over your fucking selves and adapt to the world as it is now, OR JUST SHUT THE HELL UP ALREADY and wallow in your own misery. I’ve had enough of this shit.

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  19. Solutions require a basic understanding of the problem.
    The problem with Capitalism is that money is treated as both medium of exchange and store of value. A useful analogy to understand just what a problem this is, is that in the body, the medium is blood and the store is fat. While a lot of fat can be held, not much can be stored in the circulation system and excess blood is really dangerous.
    Much of the economic dislocations, distortions and corruption can be traced to efforts to save excess notional value.
    Money functions as a voucher system and excess vouchers will destroy their value and effectiveness.
    The reason for this is that we think of money as a commodity that can be mined, or manufactured, from gold to bitcoin, but it is a contract. Money is put into circulation by buying debt, so that as an asset, it is backed by an obligation. While the US Federal Reserve only buys Federal debt, other countries, such as Japan, buy corporate debt as well.
    Which raises a very interesting point: While everyone is publicly against government debt, just how serious are those actually controlling the process? For example, Wolf Street recently ran a post about how the Government has sold over $4 trillion more debt, over the last 13 years, than can be accounted for in Federal spending,(http://wolfstreet.com/2016/10/01/why-u-s-government-deficit-numbers-are-a-big-lie-national-debt/).
    When you consider how the process works, the government doesn’t actually budget. Budgeting, as any teenager should know, is to first list your priorities and then only spend what you can afford. Which is not how the government does it. They put together enormous bills, add enough goodies to get enough votes and then the president can only pass or veto it, but spending bills have way too much support to truly veto.
    Some decades ago there was a proposal, called the “line item veto,” which would allow the president to eliminate any particular items he so chose. Which had zero chance in hell of passing, as it would have eviscerated any control the congress had over spending. So it was only a sop to the deficit hawks.
    Now there is a very simple way to actually make it work; The bills could be broken into all their various items and every legislator would assign a percentage value to each item. Then the bills would be put back together in order of preference and the president would draw the line at what is to be funded. To use Harry Truman’s line, “The buck stops here.” This would let the congress prioritize, while making the president responsible for the level of spending.
    It would also completely blow up our current financial system.
    Back in the 70’s there was too much money in circulation and it was called inflation. Paul Volcker, as Federal Reserve chairman, was credited with bringing it under control, by raising interest rates.
    The problem with this narrative is that higher rates slowed economic activity and consequently reduced the overall need for money. It wasn’t until 1982 that inflation started to come under control, which just so happened to be the year that deficit spending went over $200 billion a year.
    One of the ways the Fed has to raise rates and reduce the money supply, is to sell the bonds they bought to create the money in the first place. So what is the difference between the Fed selling debt it is holding and the Treasury issuing new debt in the first place? Just that the Treasury can turn around and spend this money in ways which will support the private sector, but not actually compete with it for profits. Such as building large armies and funding lots of social programs, that don’t create a financial return, but put lots of people to work.
    Which then raises the question of whether we have military bases and wars all over the world to “protect democracy/we are run by megalomaniacal idiots, or simply that we need to spend money on stuff.
    As for social programs, there is an old saying; “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” When other areas of the world have economically devastating catastrophes, aid programs don’t just go in and say ‘we will feed you for life.’ Rather they give them enough to get their own economies back up and running.(Though in reality, usually as further indebted to various world organizations.)
    So one has to ask if there is some ulterior motive, other than placating the masses, as to social welfare programs, rather than building up local economies and teaching self sufficiency? When there was an effort to change welfare in the 80’s, one of the main lobbyists against it was Archer Daniels Midland, a large agricultural conglomerate, because one of their significant sources of income was manufacturing the mass produced feed sold through these programs. Consider today, what it would do to Walmart and like minded compatriots, if local economies were given enough of a subsidy and defense to create local and community manufacturing, farming, retail, healthcare, etc.?
    So in reality, poor people serve as a straw through which large corporations further suck up public money.
    What will happen, when the world economy can no longer support the exponential debt required to keep this all going and how might a better system be designed?
    The reason money is such a powerful concept is that it is quantified hope and politicians get elected by giving people hope. Since we all, rich and poor, think of it as a commodity to be collected and saved, we believe everyone has the rights to what they earn and since everyone wants to earn as much as possible, there needs to be nearly infinite amounts of money. Consequently we leave it up to the banks to store this most precious of goods. Yet the only way they can give us what we have grown to expect, to both safely hold our money and increase its value, is to find ever more profitable investments. Given it is a finite world and there are fairly limited profitable investments out there, that are not Ponzi schemes, this is not always possible. Keeping in mind the most “Safest and securest” form of savings is US government debt, that is basically thrown around like so many pallets of paper.
    The reality is that money is not private property, any more than you own the section of road you are driving on. It is its very fungibility that allows it to function. Or even, in reality, the water passing through your body. As George Carlin said of beer, we only rent it.
    So as a social contract, it is a public medium, just like the roads. It’s not your picture on it, you are not responsible for maintaining its value and you certainly don’t hold the copyrights.
    Money allows a global economy to function because it is a trusted social contract. Otherwise people would only be willing to exchange favors with those they know and trust. It allows us a mechanism to trust anyone willing to function within this system. Consequently, it also reduces the need to count on those who we do know, increasing the atomization of society. Our bank account becomes our umbilical cord.

    Now as pointed out above, if there is a need to pull excess money out of the system, the easiest way is to get it from those with excess money. So what if the government was to threaten to tax out those vast pools of excess wealth, the rich, pension funds, etc, rather than just borrow it out? People would quickly learn to save wealth in other ways.
    From a personal point of view, money makes it easy to store value, as it can be hidden and there are minimal carrying costs. Most people save for the same general reasons; housing, healthcare, child raising, retirement, etc. So if they couldn’t save this wealth abstractly and personally, then they would have to go back to building up and storing value in stronger communities and healthier environments and take care of those needs within the community. What used to be known as the Commons.
    Just as finance serves as society’s circulation system, government serves as its central nervous system, both protecting and controlling the body and its multitude of desires. There was a time when government was a private function, aka, monarchy, because it originated through the efforts of individuals, but as it became ever more institutionalized, it became a public function. We are reaching that point with the banking system.
    There was a time when banks issued and were responsible for their own currency, reaping the rewards of dong the job well. Given it can be a perilous business, the function of issuing and stabilizing the currency became a semi-public function, with the creation of the central bank, aka the Federal Reserve, in the US. The problem is that while responsibility for the system rests with the public, as evidenced in 2008, the rewards still go to the private sector.
    When is there is no reciprocity between rewards and responsibilities, the system is still inherently unstable, but just on a bigger scale. After the next meltdown we will have to go back to a fully private banking system, or forward, to a fully public system.
    Like democracy, such a system would be bottom up, with local community banks serving and tying their own communities together, while networking with other such systems and larger regional, national and international ones. A more diverse system of money might also be possible, with local currencies balancing regional and national systems.
    If people were to realize it is a contract, not just something to hoard, they would better understand why it needs to be respected as such and massive cheating only destroys the whole system. Then society and the planet would be valued, not just treated as a resource to be mined.

    Sweep too much under the rug and it rots the floor.

    JBM

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  22. Reblogged this on Lucky Otters Haven and commented:
    This is an incredibly well written and deeply disturbing post that went viral when it was posted and I completely missed until today. The early die-off of poor and formerly middle class whites may be intentional. If it works, you know what will happen next. The “fittest” will be the most sociopathic and narcissistic. With the great die-off, will empathy become as extinct as the dodo bird? I wonder.

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  23. My Dear Anne, Thanks for writing this. Learnt many things.

    Though the maps show about 1% of the disease in India, and though it works out to about 125 Million Souls, Our country does not treat this as Significant. In the villages and Towns, people Do Not Know those Infected, but once they go to the Hospitals, even for Pregnancies, they face Problems, in that many Doctors refuse to attend them.

    Around me, that is Not the problem; rather, Regular Hunger, the Dwindling Water, Injustice and Cruelty are Issues. These I try to address.

    I have Full Sympathy. Though You have named this essay and those affected by that Terrible name, the ‘Unnecessariat,’ it is Fear, Cowardice and Foolishness that makes this so.

    I send my Sympathy, Empathy even, – I am Easily moved, even now I feel Breathless over this. Hearty Regards, Blessings and Love. 🙂

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  24. I lived through the AIDs epidemic. I know your rage. I was a member of ACT when it met in a small room. As I recall, the reason that the gay community responded as well as it did to AIDS was that it also had a strong middle class and respect for intellectuals. Writers and Academics were an important part of the early Gay Liberation Movement and even more important to the process of advocating for and humanizing the men who sickened and died from AIDS.

    The Gay community that I remember believed that it could use reason and activism to force our Democracy to recognize Gays and lesbians as citizens. Gays would use the noblest principles of the system to free ourselves even as our opposition screamed that AIDS was a punishment sent by God. My hear breaks every time I think of the men we lost. But what got saved us was a community of artists and intellectuals; people of all classes and races who worked for the common cause of finding treatments and comforting the sick. The other thing about the AIDS epidemic that I recall quite vividly was that women stepped up and cared for the dying. They helped organized Shanti and Meals on Wheels.

    This is what I remember.

    I moved to San Francisco when AIDS was still GRID.

    I feel blessed to still be here and to share these memories with another survivor.

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