What would Jesus think (about the economy)?
"What did you expect?"
I was stunned -- partly because I didn't know the answer, partly because what I wanted him to say was, "Oh, poor sweet babykins, did the Big Bad World hurt your wittle feewings?" But I was exhausted and vulnerable enough to tell the truth:
"I expected it would be easier."
It's not as deluded as it sounds. According to Robert Reich, Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton, in the last decade median wages have gone down like an intern under Bubba. But Reich connected the dots between the Crash of 1929 and the Burst of 2007:
In 1928 the richest 1% of Americans received 23.9% of the nation's total income. After that, the share going to the richest 1% percent steadily declined. New Deal reforms, followed by World War II, the GI Bill and the Great Society expanded the circle of prosperity. By the late 1970s the top 1% raked in only 8% to 9% of America's total annual income. But after that, inequality began to widen again, and income reconcentrated at the top. By 2007 the richest 1% were back to where they were in 1928 -- with 23.5% of the total.
That's a lot of dollars and percents.
Similarly, during what Reich calls the "Great Prosperity" of the 1950s and 60s, CEO salaries were 30 times that of the average worker. Today they are more than 300 times larger.
As Shakespeare said, "the fault lies not in our stars, but in Reagnomics that we are underlings." Or he would've if he were still around. Because, like Jesus, I'm sure Shakespeare would be a Democrat. Y'know, what with caring about working people and criticizing kings.
Reich contends that the only solution is to curb the income gap, to skim the cream from the bowls of the fattest cats.The problem, of course, is that this smacks of socialism, which is anathema to both the haves and the have-nots.
The haves want to hold onto their wealth, which they've accomplished by having demagogic bloviators like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck convince the have-nots to vote against their own self-interest. As a result, business people like California Republican candidate Carly Fiorina claims on her website she'll "fight for every job" despite having personally cut 18,000 jobs as CEO of Hewlett-Packard.
But Republicans aren't solely to blame. Reich takes President Obama to task for failing to make the country understand how universal health care would be a financial benefit to all, or how the BP disaster -- our latest Gulf War -- proves that a deregulated corporatocracy harms the greater good.
So, since it's not going to be easy, what should those of us trying to get ahead do? Start by watching my favorite movie of the year, Joan Rivers - A Piece of Work.
Again, it's not as deluded as it sounds. What impressed me most about this alternately hilarious and heartbreaking documentary was Joan Rivers' unflagging ambition. Here was a 75-year-old comic who'd become the joke instead of the joke teller, someone the entertainment industry had put out to pasture. But Rivers refuses to be insignificant, choosing to push a rock up a hill again and again on a schedule that would kick the ass of someone a third her age.
In an interview with Artisan News Service Rivers described her work ethic, saying, "I don't want to go and have lunch with you. I don't want to go and take cooking classes with my girlfriends. No. I'm a performer. That's what I do."
So when I'm feeling exhausted and vulnerable, I think of Joan Rivers hawking jewelry on the shopping channel until 2:30 a.m., then getting up at 5 a.m. to catch a 7 a.m. plane to Deepest Wisconsin for a gig -- where she gets heckled.
"That's the kind of drive it takes to succeed," I think to myself. "Times are tough, so you've got to be tougher."
At least now I know what to expect.
And that, my friends, is The Upside.