We immerse ourselves in facts and figures; turning real life suffering into an abstraction. The official unemployment rate is 9.6 percent in the United States. Estimates vary about the additional unemployed who have given up looking for a job. Some say the real number could exceed 15 percent. The unemployment for black youths in America aged 16 to 19 is 44 percent. Yes, 44 percent. That’s the official number. These are scary numbers. But only when real people get attached to the statistics, does the reality settle in.
We get interesting comments from members of our community who are intrigued with our work. This week, Tony’s comments were quite unsettling. Rather than editorialize, I have chosen to post much of the email conversation between us last week as it took place, with Tony’s permission, leaving off his last name to protect his privacy. This is our Labor Day posting, in honor of Tony, and the millions like him trapped in our broken economic system, triggered by the housing bubble, but made much worse by irresponsible and unethical behavior in the financial system. Tony’s story underscores the importance of our work, to transform finance to serve a more just and sustainable economic system.
Tony’s original comment:
How is the entire global financial system, not a complex PONZI scheme that favors and advances the best interests of the predator class, 0.05 percent of population, and predator class oligarchs, and disadvantages, and undermines the best interests of the people and the nation? The entire system is toxic, and must be destroyed, and a new more equitable, legal, and responsible system must be born out of the putrid filth that is the current global financial system.
Thank you for your comment and I do empathize with your anger. I often wonder why we haven’t seen more of these feelings expressed in a more aggressive fashion. I do hear you, although I don’t fully agree with your assumptions and conclusions. I have tried to speak the truth to power in my work, see for example my 2009 letters to Lloyd Blankfein (blog and in resources section).
However, I believe our challenge as a civil society is to find the means to transform without a full crash of some sort, violent or otherwise. I can’t imagine how that would not be much worse for the 99.5 percent than a more difficult to execute and frustrating transformation, filled with real pain no doubt, but also with a sense that we were all pushing through it together and with a common purpose. The model I relate to is how natural systems evolve and radically emerge into new forms, often quicker than one could imagine. Society has experienced this as well, like the end of Apartheid or the fall of the Berlin Wall. No one would have predicted either event even a year before they happened.
So I have chosen to dedicate my work to finding the transformational path, not a revolutionary path. But as I said, I do empathize and respect your sentiment. I’d be curious to know a bit about your own story if you would care to share.
And then, Tony’s poignant reply:
Thanks for your response. I want to believe in a “civil society,” but that belief is constantly shattered when our leaders–and particularly the corporate leadership in the finance sector and our so-called political leaders who are beholden to that den of vipers and thieves–continue robbing and pillaging the poor and middle class to feed the super-rich. Further, the rank injustices systemic in the financial and so-called judicial system widen and entrench the wildly expanding divide between the haves and the have-nots, wherein there is one set of special laws and protections for the predator class, and entirely different, much more punishing sets of laws and far fewer protections for the rest of us.
Since you asked, I am one of those unknown, unknown workers who is not accounted for in the econospeak calculus. I work freelance, and our industry has been savaged by the financial crisis, so there is terrifyingly little work. I do not collect unemployment, so there is no measurement of my circumstance. I am 50, and though I have a degree and years of success as a production consultant and manager (opened and managed successful businesses in San Diego, Atlanta, and DC)–I am also a skilled carpenter and restoration mason whose work will exist and be functional hundreds of years from now–I cannot secure full-time or part-time employment. I lost everything in my life, most notably a house, in a divorce nine years ago in Georgia, and never recovered financially. I fought hard to keep my daughter in my life, and lost everything in the process. Now I am apparently unemployable. My credit score kills any opportunity to work with a large corporation. This grotesque injustice wherein, low credit scores prohibit employment, is the 21st century equivalent of a debtors’ prison. Unemployment leads to low credit scores, which prevent employment. Why should my credit score be an issue to Home Depot for a $10.00 an hour job? So, from my pedestrian perspective, the issue is not only the obscene pillaging and robbing of the poor and middle class, by illegal, and illicit means by a sociopathic predator class and their spaniels in the so-called government–but worse, the erection of insurmountable obstacles and unspoken boundaries that prevent individuals in my situation from securing meaningful employment. Truth be told, I would accept ANY employment at this point.
As bad as my situation is I know many people who must hazard even more dire circumstances.
I like the idea of a transformation path, and would work in any way possible to help it come to fruition. I guess my concern is rooted in the fact that there is no actual transformation going on currently, and many–you, fellow Americans, and me specifically are swiftly running out time.
A thousand thanks for your vision and good will.
Tony’s latest comments:
It is important for people to realize there is a massive amount of suffering, dread, concern, and angst, and I fear a percolating, seething anger on Main Street with the poor and middle class. We do have names. We have lives and families and many of us are in peril. Others are hanging on with gossamer threads to the dim hope that they keep their jobs or their homes. We are much more than anonymous statistics and integers in some government calculus.
Good luck on you transformation project. I’ll be visiting your site daily and pray the ends you seek come about before the peoples’ desperation and hopelessness turns ugly.
Tony’s ending, “peace,” tells me where his heart is. Like most of us, he longs for peace.
The first Labor day was celebrated in 1882, and two years later declared a national holiday as President Grover Cleveland sought reconciliation with the Labor Movement following the bloody Pullman strike. On this Labor Day, with our nation’s socially devastating unemployment rate most certainly north of 10 percent, probably closer to 15 percent, and with stress and emotional violence wreaked on the employed working and middle class by forces often beyond their control, and when our leaders’ actions seem inadequate at best, let us remember the urgency of our work including seeing and speaking the truth. This is not a game, or an intellectual exercise.
Let us also invoke the words of Mahatma Gandhi (with thanks to Tim Toben for the reference) who called for the truth, but never violence as a means to an end:
Truth alone will endure, all the rest will be swept away before the tide of time. I must continue to bear testimony to truth even if I am forsaken by all. Mine may today be a voice in the wilderness, but it will be heard when all other voices are silenced, if it is the voice of Truth…We should fail in our duty if we write anything with a view to hurt. – Gandhi