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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

I’ve noticed several CEOs, political pundits and so-called economic experts saying they’re confused as to why Americans are so down. Consumers should be out buying stuff, they say, for the economy is humming again. Just look at the key indicators: GDP is growing, corporate profits are high, the stock market is soaring, jobs are being created, the unemployment rate is steadily dropping, and people’s disposable income is up. Yet, as the CEO of The Container Store recently grumped, consumers are in “a retail funk.”

That’s so cluelessly wrong, sir. Consumers (unlike you platinum-card members of the CEO Club) are in an income funk, meaning we have very little of the green stuff coming in. The bottom line is that Americans are down, because… well, because most of us are down. Yearly income for the typical household is $3,300 lower today than in 2007, when Wall Street barons crashed our economy. Or look at what’s happened to the typical American family’s net worth. It was nearly $88,000 10 years ago, but today it’s down to $56,000 — that’s more than a one-third drop, even though we’re told that America is enjoying “a strong recovery.”

And the picture is not getting any brighter, because a new normal has been imposed on America’s workforce. Señor CEO has been gleefully slashing both jobs and pay, reducing the future of work to a low-wage, no-benefits, part-time grind. One more number for you: 48. That’s the percentage of adults who now hold full-time jobs — leaving more than half of us trying to make ends meet on part-time work.

The lesson for the Powers That Be is that there is no species called “consumers.” Rather, that creature is just a worker with a decent-paying job. Eliminate the job or shrivel the pay and — poof! — consumerism goes away.

Here’s an uber-rich guy who actually gets that. What’s even better is that he’s talking about it and saying something worth hearing — especially since he’s directing it at his fellow 1-percent-of-the-1-percenters.

Nick Hanauer has made billions as an Internet entrepreneur, yet his head has not bloated like a blimp fueled by his own ego. “The true job creators,” he recently wrote in an open letter to other uber-richies, “are middle-class consumers, not rich businesspeople like us.” Indeed, he adds, “The middle class creates us rich people,” for their purchases power the economy. “I earn about 1,000 times the median American annually, but I don’t buy thousands of times more stuff,” he said, noting that his family has three cars — not 3,000. So rather than holding down the poor and knocking down middle-income families, Hanauer says it’s in the self-interest of America’s corporate and financial elites to do all they can to lift wages — starting with a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

Yet, we’re told that paying workers more will destroy small businesses and job growth. No, he argues, it’ll only destroy the insidious myth that helping the rich get richer is good for the economy, but helping the poor get richer is bad for it. Hanauer points out that “The two cities in the nation with the highest rate of job growth by small businesses are San Francisco and Seattle” — which also happen to have the highest minimum wage in the country.

One final point: For the ideological Koch-headed billionaires who see the minimum wage as “Big Govmint in Action,” this member of the Billionaire’s Club says that the soundest way to shrink government is to decrease the need for it by paying decent wages so people don’t need food stamps, rent assistance and other subsidies for life’s basics.

Hanauer concludes with this sobering warning to obtuse, narcissistic billionaires: No society can survive the glaring inequities you are building into the American economy — stop your feudal economic policies and bridge the widening divide, or “the pitch forks are going to come for us.”

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at

Photo: Ervins Strauhmanis via Flickr

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  • Bud Friend

    This man is 100% correct. You can’t argue one point. It’s very simple equation.

  • Just another indian

    Absolutely correct, and so frighteningly obvious. But owners of big box stores would rather have their employees on food stamps and other forms of welfare, because then the load is spread to all of the tax base.
    Speaking of taxes, serious tax reform would be a good idea at this point. Lowering corporate taxes and removing loopholes (ALL loopholes) and incentivizing work for lower and lower-middle class workers would be a start. But the system is too polarized for this large agenda item to gain traction, not to mention the corporate shills, lobbyists and pawns already in Congress.

    • dpaano

      We can always thank Norquist for the “No New Taxes” mantra that the Republicans seem to keep spouting!

      • Just another indian

        We are truly one of the least taxed nations in the G-8, and yet we get the least in practical terms. But Norquist and those folks who align with the Tea Party are following the old ‘starve the beast’ tactic, which only leads to higher debt loads as the next war, the next hurricane or earthquake call for us to rise to the occasion.
        Now we can argue about why we get the least with Tea Partiers: bloated defense spending vs. entitlements, tax loopholes and corporate subsidies vs. bloated government. But there is an issue that is waiting (and has been for way too long, thanks to an admittedly intransigent Republican Congress) to bring the more moderate sides of both viewpoints together, and that is infrastructure. Let’s rebuild the country, water line, gas pipe, road, bridge, electric grid, harbor, hospital, park and airport (okay, we could debate THAT last item) and put people to work.
        Interestingly, have you noticed that many R’s have been moving to the middle on many issues in the run up to the mid-term election? Has the Tea Party lost its luster? Has common sense prevailed? I await with hope…and a great deal of skepticism.

        • dpaano

          Yes, I have noticed. And, you’re absolutely correct about the infrastructure. I’m not sure how Norquist and the Republicans figure we can take care of these MAJOR problems with no new tax increases. How do they think these things are paid for…..osmosis? Let’s hope that some of these R’s moving to the middle can fight off Norquist’s “No New Taxes” BS!!! Otherwise, we’re in more trouble in the years to come. Taxes HAVE to be raised to pay for what this country needs!!

  • charles king

    The American slowly vanishing middle class better go back and look at that picture called ” The Grapes of Wrath ” starring Henry Fonda in which he played the role of a young White southern with a prison record migrating to the west looking for work in America. The corporations were using all the resources for their own gains and not allowing Unions to prevail just like today. The workers better start doing some Critical Thinking and find their Democracy and Unions and come together For, By, and Of the People that is the way you fight Capitalistic Pigs, States Plutocracy, MONIES buying out your State and federal Representives, Republicans, Democracts, ETCs. Do Not Fret because the VOTE is Still Supreme, do some critical thinking about the problems and get your Unions working again, the Unions are your brookers with the non-tax-paying Corporations with their low-wages to the workers. Strike, and VOTE their sorry-A**** OUT, OUT, OUT, America is for us all Not some, But ALL, ALL, All. Thank You are the magic words in my book. I Love Ya All. Mr. C. E. KING

  • neeceoooo

    I have to agree with everything that is said and I wish for us all, a change.

  • herchato

    At least some of them are getting it.

  • howa4x

    The middle class forgot how it got there and that is the main problem. It was the growth of unions that built the middle class not the wealthy. Unions wrangled a living wage out of these robber barons, and benefits. That allowed a new class to emerge from the rich and poor society that was there. This spurred the growth in consumerism that fueled the economy till the crash of 2008. But republicans were able to get the kids of that union worker to put on a white shirt and think that they were above the manufacturing job dad had, move to the burbs and vote republican which meant that you had arrived. These younger arrogant kids voted to end the unions of their fathers for short term profits of the present and some became uber wealthy. Now unions have became a dirty word used to describe slackers and leeches who value mediocrity and stand in the way of innovation and entrepreneurship. They are weaker and no match for the globalized wealth of the powerful. So now the middle that fueled the economy has been pushed down and doesn’t want to spend like before, and will buy less and less as time goes on. You can’t expect a grad with student loan debt to fuel the new economy do you? Or a subsistence pay worker? Wake up Uber rich before the economy melts away under your feet.