Heard the good news?

Because humans tend to be optimistic; we are receptive of anything that smacks of good news. While this trait may be essential in preserving us from the debilitating pits of despair, it can also blind us to realities that can be devastating when they inevitably surface. A prime example is the credit binge that sustained our consumption through the 1990s and right up to the 2008 crash, when the bottom fell out. Throughout that period, the experts - including the head of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan - fed us the daily "good news" that all was well in Camelot and capitalism had at last developed the mechanisms to make financial crashes and economic depressions forever obsolete. "Charge on!" was the optimistic message. Once again, we are welcoming "good news." Unemployment is down to 7.8 percent from recent a high of over 9 percent - a sure sign that after four dreary years we're emerging from recession. Certainly this must buoy us, since numbers don't lie. Or do they? The New York Times (1/05/13) tells us that "Services have been a crucial source of job growth, creating about 90 percent of net jobs added since January .Many of the new jobs are in the low-paying retail and restaurant industries."

This is supported by a Bureau of Labor Statistics report (NY Times, 1/05/13) that 115.6 million jobs - or about 66 percent of all jobs - are in low-paid service industries. The Bureau also tells us that the U.S. worker is averaging about $42.5K a year. That's barely a living wage that can't support serious medical bills or sending the kids to college. But then again, the young try to send themselves to college these days - to the tune of $1 trillion in student indebtedness. We also learn from the Bureau that 15.5 percent of the workforce - or over 29 million people - are un- or underemployed - and that's not counting the millions who have given up looking for work.

There's also "good news" from Spain, which is in economic freefall: "Ford and Renault recently announced plans to expand their production in Spain" (NY Times, 12/28/12). How come? Unemployment is so high in Spain - 25percent - that it's pushed labor costs so low as to make production there "40 percent less expensive than [in] Europe's other big car-making countries." To accommodate the shift to Spain, Ford is closing plants in Britain and Belgium at the cost of 4,300 jobs. The only good news is for capitalist corporations that, in their inability to provide a living for all of society, must benefit one group only at the sacrifice of another. They're having a profit windfall playing nation against nation, state against state, and worker against worker.

But take heart - there's more "good news." And it's right here in Vermont, where Bill Stenger, owner of the Jay Peak ski resort, is "building a biomedical research firm and a window manufacturing plant, extending the runway at the local airport and rehabilitating much of the nearby town of Newport .There he is developing the waterfront, adding the town's first hotel and a conference center and rebuilding an entire downtown block. He is also creating what he says is the largest indoor mountain bike part in the world and a state-of-the-art tennis center" (NY Times, 12/31/12).There will also be stores, condominiums, an indoor water park and an ice hockey arena - all at a cost of close to a billion dollars. This will no doubt delight development advocates - especially since Stenger promises that the project "will create 10,000 direct and indirect jobs over several years."

Never mind that in order to win support, entrepreneurs invariably grossly exaggerate the number of jobs their projects will create - or that in this case, most will disappear after the building phase. The issue is what these jobs will pay. And what will be the pay scales in the hotel, the restaurant, the conference center, the bike park, and all the other grand facilities that will be manned by local Vermont service workers? $8 $10 $12 an hour? Certainly not a living wage. And once this Aspen of the East is built, who will land on the new runway, book into the new hotel, dine in the new restaurant and hit forehands on the new tennis courts? It certainly won't be Vermonters, most of whom can't afford a ticket to ski on their own mountains. This is a deal for the rich by the rich, and Stenger is shrewdly exploiting a unique law to finance it. If a non-citizen invests $500,000 in a U.S. business, the government will grant him permanent residency here - while an impoverished "illegal" who wants only to feed his family gets a ticket on the Deportation Express. Five hundred and fifty wealthy foreigners have already bought their way into the country by putting up $275 million for the project. The average Vermonter will benefit only if the project - if it is ever completed - throws off some serious tax revenues.

A final piece of "good news" is the surge of "the markets" following the fiscal cliff resolution. The majority of Americans, who hold no financial assets of any consequence, are supposed to jump for joy because the wealth of the 1 percent appreciated by a few million dollars - none of which will give struggling Americans an iota of relief.

All this "good news" makes one wonder whom our economic system is functioning for. Is it serving the people as an economic system should - or are the people serving the system in order to support and further enrich an elite? An answer comes from an astonishing incident involving the British bank HSBC. The bank was caught in a money-laundering scheme, but authorities decided not to indict it since "criminal charges could jeopardize one of the world's largest banks and ultimately destabilize the global financial system" (NY Times, 12/11/12). Capitalism has achieved the Mafia nirvana: crime without punishment!

The real good news will be when the people stop swallowing the fake good news, which is slanted to feed their optimism instead of their bank accounts.

Andrew Torre lives in Landgrove.


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