The Cracks are Widening… and We are All Falling Through

Falling through the cracks

Peter Van Buren

A guy on Facebook I don’t know wrote a version of what has become a kind of set-piece article in today’s America. Here’s a portion:

Losing The War of Attrition or How To Turn Any Normal Person Into A Broken, Angry Radical

You are one of the millions who are employed at minimum wage. Or you are one of the millions who are euphemistically called underemployed, or you are one of the millions with no job and no prospects. You are retired- how did that happen?- or disabled- why did that happen?- and trying to survive on Social Security.

You reach a point when you realize that getting ahead is no longer possible. After that you reach a point when you realize that holding on to what you have is no longer possible. Then you reach a point when you realize that replacing what has been lost or depleted is no longer possible.


I wrote a book about this five years ago called The Ghosts of Tom Joad. No one read it. Publishers in the process of turning me down mocked me for writing about “poor people” and seemed surprised there were poor people in America who weren’t black and living in ghettos. Well, hell, then Trump happened. Because people watching a way of life — a middle class existence where the rich have more but we had some — fall away are easy targets for demagogues. Always have been. Because before we dismissed things as whataboutism we used to study them as lessons from history. Other people’s’ mistakes. History shows very clearly this economic game we’re playing ends with everyone but a small handful at the top losing badly.

tracks into the distanceI concluded five years ago the game was already decided. Our society was already then like those photos of railroad tracks, where in the distance it seems like the two rails come together in a single point. That point is essentially feudalism, where a tiny minority owns almost everything and everyone else lives off whatever scraps they let us have. Like in the Middle Ages, where everyone farmed for the king as serfs. It’s worse than slavery, because slaves at least know they’re slaves and have the possibility, however small, of freedom. Maybe for their kids if not for themselves.

We are not at the singularity, but we are inexorably headed toward it. Five additional years of data has only made that clearer; five years ago we spoke of the 1%. That number no longer matters. The new figure is .1%, an even smaller group who owns even more.

And no, none of this is new Because Trump. Since 1980, the incomes of the very rich (the .1%) have grown faster than the economy, for about a 400% cumulative increase in wealth. The upper middle class (the 9.9%) has kept pace with the economy, while the other 90% of us, the middle class and the poor have fallen behind.

By the way, it is these numbers which sent Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton during the 2008 campaign to both use $250,000 as the upper limit of the middle class. They sounded misguided, but it was sort of true. They just were still lumping what we’re calling here the “Upper Middle Class” and the “Middle Class” together. Just words. At present in the U.S. we have three-and-a-half classes: The .1%%, the 9.9%, everyone else hanging on, plus some people way at the bottom with basically nothing.

But bad news for the 9.9% Since the they the most (the most the .1% does not yet have) they have the most to lose. At their peak, in the mid-1980s, people in this group held 35% of the nation’s wealth. Three decades later that had fallen 12%, exactly as much as the wealth of the 0.1% rose. And do understand the people at the top are constructing walls and throwing nails off the back of the truck to make sure no one can catch up with them. The goal of .1% is to eliminate the competition, the 9.9% below them. They’ll only effectively have it all when the ratio is down to two classes, the .1% and the 99.9%

We are kept in place via shiny objects (500 channels, more movies and Apple watches and drugs!) and curated divisions. The ever-increasingly sharp lines between say blacks and whites are a perfect tool. Keep the groups fighting left and right and they’ll never notice the real discrimination is up and down. Some groups just found down earlier and harder, but as long as a poor white man in south Kentucky thinks he has nothing in common with a poor black man in the South Bronx they will never work together, never even see the massive economic forces consuming both equally. Forces are even now hard at work to tell us the Republican party is for whites, POC head Democrat, and any third party is a Russian shill in place to hurt the candidate you favor.

Whether your housing is subsidized via a mortgage and that tax deduction or Section 8, you’re still on the spectrum of depending on the people really in charge to allow you a place to live. I do not see a way out of this, only maybe steps that can slow it down or cause it to speed up.

Very short version summary: People like you and I fell through the cracks; we weren’t supposed to end up here but the .1% hadn’t worked out the details so they got as much as they do now and we basically ended up with bigger crumbs than we should have, especially me lucking into a “career” with no real skills.

Our own kids may do OK with what we leave for them, but only if your son is a medical doctor will he have a decent shot at our lifestyle and only because of the “cartelization” of the profession by the AMA. The rest of our kids are unlikely to have any shot at what we ended up with.

Sorry, I’m not a more cheerful guy but these conclusions are based on a fair amount of honest study.

This post originally appeared on Peter’s blog under the title, “Poor Folks.”

6 thoughts on “The Cracks are Widening… and We are All Falling Through

  1. Peter, I’m sorry to hear that your book “fell on deaf ears” (well, an audiobook version would qualify for that phrase, right?). I know only too well the feeling of being “a prophet without honor in my own country.” Lord Keynes famously pointed out that “In the long run, we’re all dead.” Global climate chaos will take down this astoundingly hubristic animal species that calls itself Man. (You didn’t think you had the market for “cheery news” cornered, now did you?!?) In the shorter term, I’ll just underline two recent statistics: 1.) a record rate of delinquency on automobile loan payments; and 2.) a reported decline in consumer spending for December, despite the holiday season that falls therein, which supposedly was robust. Meanwhile, the enlightened and compassionate US regime has decided that if they starve and deny medicine to enough folks in Venezuela, tankers-full of crude oil will fall into “our” hands [I always dissociate myself from the actions of those claiming to be working the levers of government in my best interests]. Because, you know, a Green New Deal is impractical. For decades now, the Ruling Class has had simply nothing to offer us but Trickle-Down Economics. But it seems 35-40% of the electorate want Trump to be able to Build the Wall. Yep, that’ll do wonders for all us citizens, economically. It’s so clear and logical! I must stop now, lest I get a migraine headache…something I never get!

  2. “… we weren’t supposed to end up here but the .1% hadn’t worked out the details so they got as much as they [have] now and we basically ended up with bigger crumbs than we should have.”

    As Dick Cheney explained “fiscal responsibility” (with Republicans in office): “Reagan taught us that deficits don’t matter.” Not when the 0.1% have no intention of repaying them. Hence, the two operative slogans of the Transnational (i.e., Global) Corporatist Oligarchy:

    Rob the future now, because no one ever heard the Future scream: “Stop! Thief!”

    Buy some Republicans, they’ll shout “Gawd Bless.”
    Then rent some Democrats, they’ll lose for less.

    • Unveiling the schema in ottava rima

      Oath of Avarice

      I pledge allegiance to the corporation:
      A “person” as the judges have proclaimed,
      And place this “him” or “her” above my nation
      Whose Constitution “he” or “she” has maimed
      Pursuant to no legal obligation
      Except immunity, however named,
      For those investors in their campaign suites
      Who’d rather that we call them our “elites.”

      Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2014

    • It seems so long ago now — twelve years — since I tried to explain this sort of grand larceny in verse (having given up on the supposition that my fellow Americans could any longer decipher expository prose). It seems that the “Democrats” had won the mid-term elections in 2006 and “New Sheriff in Town,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, had gotten immediately to work taking Impeachment off the table and writing those huge, unfunded:

      Boobie Blank Rubber Checks
      (from Fernando Po, U.S.A., America’s post-literate retreat to Plato’s Cave)

      They ran for their election by
      Not promising to say
      What they would do in office if
      They ever got their way
      Instead they vaguely swore to show
      How nicely they could play

      The last guys gave the president
      A blank check for his war
      The new guys said they wouldn’t but
      They might if pushed too far
      Which meant — in their case — nothing more
      Than wishing on a star

      For “pushing” means to Democrats
      A hint about a name
      That mean old bad Republicans
      Might use to pin the blame
      On those who dared to try and do
      The job for which they came

      The Boobies thought that they’d thrown out
      The ones they didn’t like
      For feeding them a pack of lies
      Upon a pointed pike
      All wrapped in soothing, empty noise
      Like “win” and “surge” and “spike”

      But all too soon the new guys turned
      A shade of yellow pale
      The President, they said, has got
      The right to trip and fail
      Which means that they must post his bond
      So he can then skip bail

      For don’t you know, it wouldn’t do
      To recognize the fact
      That those who voted-in the new
      Expected them to act
      And not sign off on deals with George
      Which he will just redact

      See, Boobie George “decides” based on
      An “instinct,” guess, or whim
      He signs the laws alright but claims
      They don’t apply to him
      Which low-watt Boobie Congressmen
      Accept like yokels dim

      King George the Worst had learned to work
      A scam both bold and deft
      He asked for loans from Congresses
      Who had no money left
      When he asked for their signatures
      To authorize his theft

      Republicans thought this just fine
      Since they dined on the pork
      The Democrats, though, didn’t and
      Considered George a dork
      For eating all the food while they
      Could only lick the fork

      Yet still they found it hard to break
      Bad habits formed in years
      When they watched George consume the wine
      While they drank only tears
      In tune to him denouncing them
      For marrying some queers

      So when they got back in it seemed
      Just like the bad old days
      With George deciding what he’d spend
      And them the one that pays
      “Support the troops,” for him, meant more
      Vacation sunshine rays

      He didn’t even have to fight
      The wars he claimed to lead
      He had some other folks do that
      While he learned how to read
      “Some Shakespeares” and Albert Camus:
      An awful thought, indeed

      Yet as he lost he doubled down
      The turning of the screw
      And threatened Democrats to up
      The ante that he blew:
      “Just sign your names alongside mine
      Which implicates you too!”

      Then comes the part that really hurts
      As Democrats confessed
      That they would never want to fight
      An unarmed man undressed
      For fear that this would just offend
      All those that he’d oppressed

      Those years tied to the whipping post
      Had made them love the lash
      Internalizing George’s lies
      That called them traitor trash
      They just believed George Bush deserved
      To make of them a hash

      In fact, they shared his view of life
      As his preserve alone
      They only thought it fair that he
      Should make them cry and moan
      Why should he not spit in their face
      And kick them till they groan?

      What would they do about it if
      He asked for “just one more”?
      Had he not done the same and worse
      So many times before?
      He’d fooled them not just one “last time”
      But two, and three, and four …

      For when the last means “latest” you
      Can see one coming next
      No reason then to wonder why
      Or act a bit perplexed
      George only screws the pooch because
      Some witches have him hexed!

      “So just another rubber check
      If you would be so kind
      Someone will find the money soon
      So I don’t really mind
      But if they don’t, you’ve still no right
      To put me in a bind”

      “I never asked permission but
      Forgiveness I’ll now take
      Just ’cause I lied for practice
      Don’t consider me a fake
      Or think that over burning coals
      My lying ass you’ll rake”

      “You bought into my lies at first
      And that makes you look dumb
      And now you can’t admit it so
      You’re now beneath my thumb
      And I can go on lying ’cause
      Your brain’s already numb”

      “Somehow you think that time will pass
      And folks will just forget
      The ease with which I suckered you
      Each time I placed a bet
      And you bankrolled my losing
      Though I haven’t won once yet”

      “Just sign upon the dotted line;
      I’m sure you know your place
      I swear I won’t come back next year
      And throw it in your face:
      How this, your very signature,
      Means my war you embrace”

      “Those fingers crossed behind my back?
      Why, pay no mind to those
      They only indicate what I
      Have no wish to disclose:
      That I have sundry plans afoot
      For giving you the hose!”

      “You know from past experience
      How I have jerked your chain
      And yet you keep on coming back;
      You simply can’t abstain
      From “just one more last” whipping which
      Must mean you like the pain”

      “I’ve only got two years to go
      So that means two more checks
      Just give me this one now despite
      The budget that it wrecks
      Your kids will pay it back one day
      With chains around their necks”

      Republicans have words for things
      All lined up in a row
      They think that they can spout some words
      And that will make things so
      Which Democrats confirm each time
      They eat a meal of crow

      So, yes, “just one more last time” check
      For blood and sweat and tears
      Just like the other “one last times”
      We’ve had the last four years:
      A bouncing rubber bankruptcy
      Refinancing our fears

      Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2007

      • A comment passed on from a WWII veteran:

        “Mike. Amazing! You succeeded in poetry to analyze in verse a very complex political betrayal. It’s length takes reader patience, but poetry actually condenses that eight-year betrayal by the Democrats better than an expository article would have. Verse gives the force of passion to the article.”

  3. Peter.. We now live in a time of very little hope. The previous president who we elected because we thought he would understand the importance of “hope and change” betrayed us and just delivered ” more of the same old crap. The oligarchs have a death grip on both parties now and the3y call the shots solely for their benefit and the poodles just follow.
    It hasn’t always been this way. We once had a government that gave the majority of Americans hope that tomorrow would be better than today.In the depths of the depression in 1937 my brothers and I were sent to an orphan home because after the death of our father mother couldn’t earn enough at 25 cents an hour to feed us. At 18 I went straight from the orphan home into the Army Air Corps for the duration of the war. When I was demobilized the government showed they cared about me by giving me a collge education at one of the best university s in the country. I worked in the steel mils in Gary to supplement my GI bill but I was filled with hope.

    Keep hope in your heart and work for change. Don’t expect it will come from either party.

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