11.04.11

What do they want??

Posted in Cancer, Decline and Fall at 8:30 am by George Smith

This was the question that someone asked me last week.

While I was in the cancer ward helping someone through a hard bout of chemotherapy.

We had been sitting there and if you know anything about people, you know you can help alleviate exhaustion or general feelings of great illness with mild conversation. It helps to have a friend there to take the mind off things, to feel the warmth of it.

And we had been discussing the week’s news in passing including the protests and the police firing of teargas rounds.

Another patient — chemotherapy is an automated group out-patient experience these days — overheard and asked me “But what do they want?”

It was a much older individual. And I just said OWS was protesting economic inequality, the economic collapse and Wall Street greed and massive unemployment.

Which brought the response that yes, greed was a problem in the US. But it was the greed on the part of people who all got home loans they did not deserve and could not afford. And that this, in turn, had caused the economic collapse. And, finally, it was Bill Clinton’s fault.

I said little. One doesn’t argue with cancer patients. It’s not graceful or human. It would have been excruciatingly bad to not be on their side right then.

There was a brief pause and then another person joined in. The mass joblessness was caused because people had no skills.

Eventually the talk petered out. Even in the cancer hospital, the walls are high and people can’t let the class differences and embedded animosity for the young or different appearing slide for a minute.

Which brings us for a brief moment to Krugman’s column today on oligarchy and one of the same arguments:

Anyone who has tracked this issue over time knows what I mean. Whenever growing income disparities threaten to come into focus, a reliable set of defenders tries to bring back the blur. Think tanks put out reports claiming that inequality isnít really rising, or that it doesnít matter. Pundits try to put a more benign face on the phenomenon, claiming that itís not really the wealthy few versus the rest, itís the educated versus the less educated …

The most popular argument right now seems, however, to be the claim that we may not be a middle-class society, but weíre still an upper-middle-class society, in which a broad class of highly educated workers, who have the skills to compete in the modern world, is doing very well.

Itís a nice story, and a lot less disturbing than the picture of a nation in which a much smaller group of rich people is becoming increasingly dominant. But itís not true.

Workers with college degrees have indeed, on average, done better than workers without, and the gap has generally widened over time. But highly educated Americans have by no means been immune to income stagnation and growing economic insecurity …

That is, the protesters who portray themselves as representing the interests of the 99 percent have it basically right, and the pundits solemnly assuring them that itís really about education, not the gains of a small elite, have it completely wrong …

His argument is that this disparity threatens the nature of our democracy, making it one “in name only.”

As for those who slough it off to a lack of skills, essentially he’s talking about the Niall Fergusons of the country.

But because Krugman so obviously has a conscience I can’t help but think he would not have had the heart to argue in the cancer ward, either.

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