So we all know that despite the media’s relentless attempts to convince us of the contrary, the economy is a pile of shit and is likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future. If you were holding your breath for that recovery that was supposedly just around the corner, well you’d be dead by now. That’s not just a figure of speech either–the state of the economy surely has caused a number of deaths among those of us who could no longer afford adequate health care, housing, and/or food. Without doubt, the economic “crisis” of the past couple of years certainly has increased and exacerbated the everyday tragedies that people without buckets of money routinely face in our society. However, the fact of the matter is that truly existential tragedies–which often threaten a person’s very survival–caused by nothing other than a lack of money have been a routine feature of our society for much much longer and in supposedly much healthier economic moments. For many of us, it was damn hard to pay for rent, doctor’s bills, transportation, and/or our daily bread in “good” times. And in times, like these, it’s damn near impossible.
Now is probably a good time to be asking whether such a society–one that turns the expected ordeals of life (toothaches, appendectomies, job loss, car accidents, higher education, etc.) into moments of such dire desperation and insecurity for the majority of the population–is really the best that we can do. To answer this question in the negative–no, this isn’t the best we can do–would subsequently provoke us to risk making the corresponding affirmation that yes, like many of the other societies present in the world today and many others throughout history, we actually can find a way to distribute resources in a way that markedly improves the lives of the majority of the population. Unfortunately, if we were actually serious about such a proposition, it would involve coming to a different sort of bargain with the %1 of the population that controls the plurality of our society’s wealth. For a variety of reasons–e.g., lack of imagination, energy, education, a common language, etc.–this is not something that we can lead ourselves to truly consider even in a moment like the present one in which the explanations and justifications for inequality which seemed reasonable in the past do so no longer. Whether it was ever true or not–and the bulk of the evidence, when available, has always attested to the contrary–back in the 80s and 90s many of us could at least believe that our society’s vast inequality was in everyone’s interest. Now, we’re left with the fact of vast inequality without any accompanying belief. The optimistic among us might think of this as an opportunity. Perhaps they are right. I, however, am less optimistic as experience has taught me that it is easy to underestimate just how difficult it is to change brute facts, even those which everyone can see and no one claims to like.